Anthony Bates serves as the director of the Student Connection and Leadership Center here at Brigham Young University. He is pursuing a doctoral degree in educational leadership in the David O. McKay School of Education. These remarks were given at the March Against Racism held on Saturday, June 13, 2020, at the Historic Courthouse in Provo, Utah. He has agreed to share his remarks here. These remarks have been edited for print.
I’ve never envisioned myself in a setting like this, doing something like this. I want to improvise just a little bit. I imagine that there are some people on the fringes of this gathering—or the gentleman that I've seen drive by multiple times with the Confederate flag—that don’t understand what is going on here. And I want to express my love to them and the sadness I feel for the relationships that they’ve sacrificed because of an unwillingness to sit down and talk with someone.
I was reluctant to do this. . . . My first inclination was to say no, because this is a scary prospect, because I've made mistakes in my strivings to be better. I've made mistakes in my attempts to try to do good by other people. So if there's anyone here that I've unintentionally hurt in any way, shape, or form, I apologize. And just like the people that I'm challenging that are on the fringes or that are driving by, I'm not the same person I was 10 years ago. I'm not the same person I was five years ago. I'm not even the same person I was two weeks ago. So I encourage you to listen and challenge yourself to be willing to change as a result.
So as I stand here, I owe this to the memory of Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Addie Mae Collins, Carol Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, Jimmie Lee Jackson, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and too too many other black lives—named and unnamed—that have been lost over the centuries, and will likely be lost, if we do not purge racism from our society.
I owe this to the 105 students that I've worked with, and the 16 colleagues with whom I've walked the streets of Birmingham, Montgomery, and Anniston, Alabama. I owe this to them and the incredible things they've taught me over the years.
But most importantly, I owe this to my seven children. They’ve listened to me talk about John Lewis, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ida B. Wells, Malcolm X, Bryan Stevenson, and Michelle and Barack Obama for nearly 10 years. Now it's time for them to see tangible evidence of me joining the chorus of courage, commitment, and sacrifice.
One thing is very important. I have unearned privilege in my life. I was born into economic circumstances where I had opportunities for education. I don't struggle with food insecurity. I’ve got a roof over my head, and therefore it's incumbent upon me to speak for those who do not have the same privileges, those voices that do not get the chance to get out, because they just haven't had the same hand that I've been dealt in my life.
So in the past couple of weeks, I've had people express to me and others that I care about that they stand with me. And I understand the sentiment, but what do they really mean?
Even as we speak, many are losing Instagram followers. And so they need to hurry, get the gist of the remarks that were made here, snap a couple sweet pics, and then get them up so that they can be social justice warriors. This does not mean you stand with me.
It's not enough to simply not support racism. You have to be an anti-racist. But to be an anti-racist, you have to take a stand.
But there's a subtle yet important step between taking that stand and becoming anti-racist.
Before you stand with me, or any of my sisters and brothers, you have to sit with us first.
Some might say there's too much to do. There's no time to sit. But unfortunately, there are far too many people who do not stop, take a breath, and sit with those they purport to help.
They do not take the time to amplify voices of color, which is much different than representing voices of color. They frantically search for solutions, without ever fully comprehending the problems of people of color. They plan and they organize without taking the guidance and direction from people of color, the same people who could give them the best strategies.
So before you stand with me or any of my sisters and brothers, you will have to take some time to sit with me. Let me give you some examples of what that might look like.
If you sat with me, you would learn that when you see me wear a mask, it is not a protest of the president or of opening up the economy. You would learn that I have children who are immunocompromised. You would learn that I have seen firsthand that the health care system treats people of color differently, so my best chance for survival is to avoid contracting anything because I would be putting my health into the hands of someone else with the hopes that no bias or prejudice would enter into my health care equation. You would learn that people of color are being disproportionately affected by COVID, so I am doing everything I can to protect indigenous, black, and Latino communities. After sitting with me to learn why I wear a mask, you can stand with people of color by wearing a mask.
If you sat with me, you would learn my thoughts about the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quote you used on your social media feed to vilify people of color who were present during violent protests and looting. You would learn about what it means to acquire and use your voice. You would learn that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” After sitting with me, you would learn that the solution is not to point your finger at unlawful behavior. You would stand by me by (1) seeing the lives of disadvantaged communities as a symptom of a larger problem, (2) identifying a concrete, actionable problem that results from a systemic issue, (3) getting proximate to the lives of those being affected by systemic issues, and (4) committing to one thing you could do to relieve the effects of a systemic issue.
If you sat with me, you would learn about my thoughts on Malcolm X. You would hear my commentary on a man whose mission and life story have been misconstrued and misused to perpetuate the perceived necessity to have an alternative to the “I Have a Dream” peaceful narrative of Dr. King. If you stand by me, you would read the autobiography of Malcolm X to empower yourself with knowledge about his formative experiences, what he accomplished, and what he actually stood for.
If you sat with me, you would learn that I have significant concerns about voting rights in this country. You would learn that Senator Lindsey Graham said in 2012, “The demographics race, we’re losing badly. We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.” You would learn that shortly after that, the Supreme Court ruling of Shelby County v. Holder in 2013 eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and provided significant ammunition to voter disenfranchisement efforts. You would learn the deep despair associated with seeing this country take nearly 400 years to see tangible evidences of this country making good on the promises of its Constitution by electing a black man to office, and then within five years, seeing an aggressive resurgence and entrenchment of racism. After sitting with me to learn about my concerns with this upcoming election, you can stand with me not by being content with getting your candidate elected or your party in power, but by participating in voter education efforts and working for everyone’s right to vote.
If you sat with me, you would learn about the terror and anxiety I feel at the prospect of four more years of the current political and social climate. You would learn that the upcoming election for me has very little to do with party affiliation and partisanship. If you sat with me, you would learn of the trauma I have experienced over hearing the man in charge of the military say, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” You would learn of the trauma I experienced when I saw a line of police officers on horseback and tear gas being used on peaceful protestors, reminiscent of “Bloody Sunday” on March 7, 1965, in Selma, Alabama. You would learn that the priorities, words, and deeds of the president put him on par with the most ardent racist and segregationist Deep South mayors, public safety commissioners, and governors that we say we disavow from the civil rights era. After sitting with me to learn about my real concerns with the political and social climate in this country, you can stand with me by not voting along party lines but by voting to ensure that this country is less dangerous—not more dangerous—for me, my children, and people of color in this country.
If you sat with me, you would hear about my deep admiration for Congressman John Lewis, the lifelong activism of Rosa Parks, and the agitative, aggressive nonviolent tactics of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. You would hear about Rev. Robert Graetz and his wife, Jean. You would hear about my dear friend Nelson Malden. You would hear about the regal Ms. Myrna Jackson and the tenacity of Catherine Burks-Brooks, a former Freedom Rider. If you stand with me, you will incorporate the history of all people of color and weave them inextricably into the current discourse in order to create a history of this nation that is as much Revolutionary War as it is Black Freedom Struggle. That is as much the legacy of the founding fathers as it is the legacy of Kamehameha. That is as much pioneer trek as it is Trail of Tears. That is as much Pearl Harbor as it is Topaz and other internment camps. That is as much Ellis Island as it is the southern border.
In conclusion, you should sit so much with people of color that your backside is in pain. You should listen so much that your ears begin to burn. You should be processing and thinking so intently that it feels like your head will explode. You should be feeling so much that your soul feels exhausted. You should be caring so much that your body feels like it can hardly contain your heart.
And then, when you have sat too long, listened even more, and felt deeper than you have ever felt before, the walking, marching, running, and kneeling required to stand with me will feel like a welcome relief.