I am a black, adopted, gay man, raised Jewish. When I was 17, I was racially profiled in my home town of Wheaton, Illinois.
I was pulled over by a police officer and panic is an understatement for what I felt. I was stopped because police were looking for someone else who happened to be black, was driving a silver car and who had allegedly grabbed a girl by the shoulders and said that he was going to kidnap her before he drove off.
Two of my friends were with me, who were white. The officer, who was also white, asked me to get out of the car. Thankfully my dad, who is also white, was not far away and arrived quickly.
Just behind my dad’s car was a van that came flying into the parking lot and parked on the opposite side. I will never forget watching this white woman get out of the van, slam the door, come running across the parking lot, get in my face, point her finger and scream, “That’s him! That’s the guy!”
Had I been alone in that moment, I don’t even want to think about what could have happened in my very conservative, religious, white town. Eventually the witness told the cop that she was not sure if I was the guy or not, which only perpetuates a stereotype that I still fight today against ignorant people: “No, we do not all look alike!” I have lost track of the amount of times I’ve been called a “nigger,” a “spear-chucker,” or been told to go back to my “homeland.”
I used to be afraid of being labeled the “angry black person.” But now I am just pissed. Millions of black people are pissed and here is why. What has happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis due to police brutality is an atrocity. The fact that the killing of black people due to police violence — 100 in the last decade alone — is double that of white people is an atrocity. The president deeming it acceptable to use excessive force against peaceful protesters is also an atrocity.
Black people today are labeled as “thugs” when we band together to say that we are done being OK living in a systemically flawed country.
We are done with laws that have made it near impossible for marginalized people to have the rights and ability to have equal opportunity and an equal shot at finding success. To be entitled and deemed worthy enough to do a job that most will only consider for a white person.
The fight you are seeing on your television screens goes back 400 years when the first slaves were brought to our shores. This country has continued to fail its black citizens. We’ve knelt, we’ve peacefully marched, celebrities have used their platforms to constructively create awareness, and here we are, still waiting for the rights that, as American citizens, we are entitled to.
Enough is enough, we’ve done it your way, now it’s our turn to finally do things our way.
White America, I pose these questions: Have you been racially profiled? Have you been told to go back to from where you came from? Do you loathe and fear being pulled over? How many times has your life been threatened for being white? Do you leave your house to go somewhere and feel the need to constantly look over your shoulder and be on guard? That is my life. That is the life of black people as a whole.
In addition, growing up I was being called almost daily some variation of “fag” in school or on the tennis court. I mention this, as painful and wrong as it is to admit, because I have grown accustomed to being marginalized.
And for many years, I had grown accustomed to thinking and believing that I should be grateful, as a queer black person, to any opportunity that comes my way. That who I am and the color of my skin only allow me to go so far, and if I happen to make it further, I should be thankful. Even more so, I should grin and bear whatever opinion and inequality comes my way from white people. That I should be passive and not create a rift. That I should “take the high road” or “be the bigger person.”
I refuse to be grateful, to be thankful, when I know that I deserve better and I deserve more. As a gay man, I am entitled to any right that a cisgendered straight man is entitled to, without judgment, without fear of losing work, without fear of losing my life because of who I am, and to one day hopefully marry the man of my dreams.
As black people, we are owning our worth and much of white America has a problem with that. White America is choosing to not understand that there are infinite systemic issues. They are choosing to not educate themselves on white privilege and the advantages that their skin color provides them.
They are choosing to not recognize the poverty blacks are forced into, the outrageous number of black men and women stuck in the prison system due to minor offenses and the lack of medical support black men, women and children have available to them. They are choosing to not recognize that Black Lives Matter.
We’re even marginalized in some sports that have long been the province mostly of white people, including tennis, where I play on the ATP Tour. Of the top 100 tennis players in the world, there are only five black players.
If you consider yourself an ally of the black community, it is imperative that a few things are understood. Do your research. Do not ask and rely on the black people in your life to give you insight that you refuse to give yourself. You are not an ally if you do not want to educate yourself.
You are not an ally if you value property over the lives of innocent black people. You can’t say, “I feel so horrible for the innocent business owners and the damage they’ve gotten, but Black Lives Matter!”
You are not an ally if your argument consists of “All Lives Matter.” That is a blind statement to marginalization and disenfranchisement of an entire group of people and it’s not acceptable.
How to be an ally
- Keep asking yourself more of these questions. Keep listening to the marginalized people in your life who are fighting for the greater good and not for profit.
- Hold others accountable for their inaction, their microaggressions and their racism.
- Hold the president accountable for his inaction, perpetuating minority and black injustices, and for sitting on his ass doing nothing to support the citizens of the United States.
- Not holding others accountable is as deplorable as not supporting the issues at hand regarding inequalities over race and sexual orientation in this country.
- Support black-owned, -operated, -supporting organizations and funds such as Black Lives Matter; George Floyd Memorial Fund; Breonna Taylor Justice Fund; I Run With Maud: Ahmaud Arbery fund; Justice for David McAtee; My Block, My Hood, My City; NAACP; Reclaim the Block; Human Rights Campaign and Color of Change.
- Realize and support the notion that black bodies are worth more than the items and property that the looters are capitalizing on amid this push for equality and demand for justice.
- Realize that protests are meant to be uncomfortable, incite dialogue and forcibly show the injustices in the world on a grand scale.
- Stand by and with black people, both on and off the front-lines and be a voice for people who need it the most. There is no in-between. You are either with us or against us.
Black people deserve more. Black people deserve equality. And whether or not you want it, we are here, some of us are queer, we are loud, and we are never going to stop until justice has been served and America is the country that it is said to be, the land of the free.
Justice for George Floyd. Justice for every black person who has fallen victim to police brutality. Justice for the black citizens of American who deserve better. #blacklivesmatter
Jeremy Sonkin, 33, is a tennis professional and coach from Wheaton, Illinois. As a junior tennis player, he was a national title holder, had been ranked in the top 5 in the country, and was a top college recruit in his class. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Madison with a bachelors degree focusing in Theater Performance. As a theater professional, he traveled North America with the Broadway National Tour of “Jesus Chris Superstar,” as well as appearing on big Chicago stages such as Steppenwolf Theatre and Lookingglass Theatre. In 2018, Jeremy competed on the ATP Tour, finish the year with a career high ranking of 818. He is currently a high performance coach, working with national, international, collegiate and professional players. He can be reached via e-mail (email@example.com) on Instagram (@jeremyrosssonkin) and on Facebook (Jeremy Ross Sonkin).
Story editor: Jim Buzinski