The Language of the Unheard
When I first came to Manila, one thing that caught my eye were these huge billboards with people on them that looked more Caucasian than they did Filipino. It confused me, because in the United States, every other Filipino that I met or came across had a darker skin tone – maybe not quite as dark as mine, but closer to my skin color compared to the people I was seeing on these billboards.
As I started to explore the city more, I would see advertisements of skin whitening products. Just walking up and down the street where I lived, I didn't see any of these people in person that I am seeing on these billboards.
The people on the billboard look more like white people that I would see in Hollywood or in magazines in the States. Before coming over, I lived with my mom my whole life. She's very sweet. My mom didn’t look like that. Her friends come over to the house, they didn’t look like that.
It set off a lightbulb in my head: the US definitely has huge influence on how people see the world.
Here in the Philippines, you can say that some people are racist to their own kind, especially if the person is dark: whether it be a darker Filipino or a dark foreigner. A lot of guys like me, Fil-foreigners, and even guys who are born and raised here like Calvin Abueva or CJ Perez or Gabby Espinas, they get made fun of by their teammates or they get made fun of by fans. Some of the people that I witnessed do it, they’re really great people. They were my teammates before, I've known them for years.
Because of who I am here, what team I'm playing for, and what we've done as far as basketball, I get treated well by the majority of people. But there are still people who would call me certain names on social media, and even at games, they call me this and that. I never really took it as hard as I should. I just kind of figured it out that the regular Filipino doesn't know the history of black people and how they were treated in the States. They are not knowledgeable how much it really hurts someone like me.
I am proudly black and I am also proudly Filipino. People that I grew up with and know me, especially in the black community, some of them would say I'm not black enough. And then when I come here as a half, they tell me I'm not Filipino enough. So there's always been a gray area that I'm not so much of this, I'm not so much of that. Still, I take great pride on being both.
But in the US, if you don't know me, I’m looked at as a black person, a hundred percent black. No one would ever know that I'm half Pinoy. I'm just looked at as an African American.
To most people who aren’t black, they look at my skin color as a weapon. When I am in the United States for vacation to visit my family, I get scared and nervous anytime I’m around police officers. Not because I’m causing trouble or breaking the law, but because I know that they see me as a threat. I am a black man in America. Imagine being in a country as great as the United States and you can be killed just because of the color of your skin.
It seems like every month on social media there is a hashtag with the name of an unarmed black man that was killed by the police. Honestly, when I first saw the still picture of George Floyd with the knee on his neck, I read the caption and I kinda just scrolled by. It’s so normal now like, ‘Oh, a cop killed a black man. What’s new?’ We've become accustomed to that. But what was surprising is how long it took them to see that this man killed another man and there's no consequences for it.
When I watched the video and I heard him cry for his mom — a man that's almost 50 years old and I think his mom has passed away, and he's calling for his mom — it was really horrible. He was pleading for his life and the officer was just there with his hand in his pocket, with his knee on this man’s neck. There are three other officers with him not doing anything about it. People who were watching this were going crazy, yelling for his life. It was just heartbreaking.
Before George Floyd, the African American trending on social media was Ahmaud Arbery. He was hunted down by three white men and gunned down while going for a jog. The three white men were not charged with anything until social media caught wind of the murder and forced the police department to take action.
His killing brought me to the story of Emmett Till. He was a 14-year-old African American kid who was visiting family in Mississippi in 1955 and was abducted by two white men in their 20s, beaten to death, bound by barbed wire to a cotton gin fan, and dumped in the river all for allegedly whistling at one of the men’s wife. His story got national attention when his mother held an open casket to show the world what these two men did to her little boy. His mother died only 15 years ago. In a perfect world, Emmett Till could still be alive today.
In March this year, Breonna Taylor in her own apartment when police entered her place illegally and killed her while she was asleep. The people who killed her are still free men.
Trayvon Martin was another young kid, only 17 years old, who was also trailed and followed by a white male in his 30s, against the instructions of police dispatch. He was shot and killed, and again his killer was acquitted on all charges.
The story of James Byrd will always hit close to home because it happened in my home state of Texas. He was tied to a back of a truck by three white supremacists and dragged for three miles, severing his arm and his head.
The beating of Rodney King, which was one of the first acts of police brutality in my lifetime, was caught on tape. It happened in 1991 and it was the last time I remember riots against police brutality happening at this magnitude.
My dad was raised in Los Angeles and he went through all of that stuff too. Growing up, we had that talk, especially when I started driving. Driving a car with my friends, we had the talk about how to act when we get pulled over by a cop. To be respectful because they see you as a threat and that's just the reality of it. So many young black kids have been killed by cops unjustly. And it's for the reason that they're just black. No other reason.
I myself have been a victim of police brutality when I was in my early 20s. I was fresh out of college. It was like a year or two before I came out here. I was driving home so my brother can use my car to go to work. It was around 7:30 in the morning and the speed limit was I think 35mph. I was going 40 or 39. Usually in the States, if the speed limit is 35, they used to give you around 5-10 miles leeway. They pulled me over for going 39. Two cops came out and pointed their guns at me. I was scared for my life. That's just for going four miles over the speed limit.
I was just one of the fortunate ones to make it through. Not everyone is fortunate. One of my best friends growing up was killed by police in front of his house.
There are hundreds of others throughout the years that have succumbed to the arm of the law. It makes me sick to my stomach that there are so many that aren’t put on video and therefore don’t get the national media attention. People never know about them. It’s been going on for far too long and the people of color are tired of it.
Since the tragic video of George Floyd being lynched by a white police officer sent waves across the world, I read a lot of comments and saw a lot of reaction on why certain things are happening. The most common rebuttal I came across is, “Why are people rioting and burning down buildings? What is this gonna solve?” Then the media started to make it seem more about WHAT was going on, taking attention off of WHY these things were happening.
There's a reason why the riots are happening. They didn't come out of nowhere. It's because black people keep getting killed without any justice. They've been yelling and screaming for help for so long and they're not getting it so it results to that. Am I a fan of the riots, the looting? No. But I understand why they're happening. And other people need to understand why they're happening.
A lot of people always look at Lebron James, Steph Curry, Jay-Z. Those people are not the norm. When you're born black in the States, you're automatically behind on the race. Automatically. Automatically behind on the race just because the way that they system has been built.
Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “A riot is the language of the unheard!” THE LANGUAGE OF THE UNHEARD! Black people in the United States have been unheard for over 400 years, since our ancestors were brought over from Africa auctioned by white people to white people. We weren’t looked at as humans, we were looked at as property.
Slavery began in 1619 and later “abolished” by the 13th Amendment in 1865. I say “abolished” because the system, even though it abolished slavery, was never put in place with the understanding of everyone being equal.
The Jim Crow laws, which mandated racial segregation in the South, are a prime example. They wanted us separate from them and wanted to make it as hard as possible for black people to make advancements as a people.
In late May to early June of 1921, “the single worst incident of racial violence in the United States” occurred. The African American community had built what is called “Black Wall Street,” a thriving town of black-owned business, churches, and schools. It was burned down by white people, killing up to 300 people, injuring over 800, and leaving thousands homeless. All of this just to stop the advancement of black people.
Now in 2020, 401 years after slavery began, more than ever we are seeing that the system isn’t broken—it works exactly how they want it to work!
Barack Obama was voted in, the first black president of the United States. He did two terms. He did eight years and it seemed like the world, the country was making such big strides, overcoming and bringing light to the plight of African-American.
It's just super unfortunate that the current president of the United States has brought racism to the forefront and has made it a big deal like, “Show your racism.” “These people don't belong here.” “Make America great again.”
We've been through slavery, we've been through Jim Crow laws, we've been through segregation, we've been through the drug war, we've been through so many things that America has never been great for the black community. So when he says “Make America great again,” he's only targeting the white majority and it's not for everyone else.
The Philippines is my home now but all of my family lives there. It breaks my heart that a place where I grew up and became a man in is being burnt to the ground. Not by the riots, but by the man who is supposed to be the leader of the “Land of the Free.” He is adding accelerant to a fire that has been slow burning for 401 years.
We as black people have made tremendous stridesas human beings, but we need the rest of the world to make even bigger strides. All we want is to be looked at and treated as equal by all. Just because the black man has more rights doesn’t mean the white man has less rights.
It's not only for black people but it is really all people of colors — Filipinos, all minorities. Because the people in charge over there, the white majority, are trying to keep everyone else down. So all the people that are keeping down are starting to team up some and to trying to raise each other up.
I recently read a story on the New York Times, I think it was in San Francisco wherea Filipino wrote “Black Lives Matter”on the outside of his home and a white couple came across. They got mad at him because he's writing “Black Lives Matter,” telling him that it's not his property, they know who lives at this building and they’re gonna call the cops on him. He's a Filipino, probably has nothing to do with black culture, but he's standing for what he feels is right and it just goes to show how far people, especially minorities are coming together.
There's so many different countries that have been supporting the Black Lives Matter and it's never been like that. It just shows the growth that’s going on in the world, the power of social media.
We actually have a group chat where we’ve been educating ourselves, because we need education as well. This group chat has a lot of Fil-Ams, some of the local guys as well and we just kind of throw things, things that we read, links to here, links to there. Really educating ourselves on things so we can educate more people and like.
For example, not a lot of people knew about Juneteenth. It’s when the slaves were freed. A lot of people in the United States celebrate July 4th as Independence Day but not everyone became free on July 4th. So why would a person like me celebrate July 4th as freedom of United States birth when I wasn’t free? My people weren’t free. So Juneteenth is the time when slaves were freed and that’s really when it was freedom for all. June 19th or Juneteenth is actually one of the probably the biggest days for African Americans. A lot of the companies now, a lot of big companies are starting to make it to a national holiday and a national paid holiday.
A lot of us have been using our platform to educate people around us and educate ourselves and I think it’s going to continue to keep going. Just keep educating yourselves, keep educating people around you, and we can just hope and pray for better future. PBA players have such a huge social media following that you can say whatever you want and they can get to everyone just like that.
We've been fighting for a long time for change. It looks like this generation is fed up with it and they're gonna keep fighting and keep marching and keep protesting until there's change. But it gonna take more than a black community and it's gonna take a lot of people, the white people, to come around and to really make change, people that are leaders of the country that realize that the system is wrong and it needs to be fixed.
I think this generation is ready to make the change. Like one of my favorite rappers said, “It’s bigger than black and white. It’s a problem with the whole way of life. It can’t change overnight but we gotta start somewhere!”
~ Chris Ross
Nice one Chris!