Learning, understanding and acknowledging why Black lives matter
This is a summary transcription of the Magnificent Midlife podcast interview with Kwavi Agbeyegbe about her experience of racism day to day and understanding why the Black lives matter movement is so important. You can listen to the full interview here.
I’m hopeful that change is coming because I’m a hopeful person. I really hope there is some major change in the works.
I was born in England. My dad is from Nigeria and my mom is from Togo which is another country in West Africa. I moved to Nigeria for middle school and then came back to the UK for college. I moved to the States after college so essentially, I lived in three different countries but when I add them all up, I’ve spent more of my life in the US.
When I moved to this country, I really didn’t know a lot about the history of Americans, Black Americans, specifically. I just saw what I saw in the pictures, that they were fighting for civil rights but I didn’t really understand the layers underneath.
I grew up as a Catholic. There was an episode that happened in the church where I attended. While in the service, they were passing out the offering plate and they went right past me. I was like, what just happened? That was my first experience with racism. I was the only Black person in the church and that was an eye opener for me.
Some might disagree with the decision I made after that. I stopped going to church.
I’m still a Christian but I no longer go to a Catholic church. The experience put me on this journey of discovering about the history of Black America because until that point, I didn’t really understand Jim Crow.
The Jim Crow laws are about how the Blacks were discriminated against. It could be as simple as walking on one side of the street, not being able to drink from the same water fountain, or the need to use a different toilet.
They didn’t call them Blacks and called them colored instead. Imagine if you are trying to go to the restroom and the only restroom there is for Whites only?
It’s a fundamental human right that you need to go to the restroom and do certain things, but because of the color of your skin, you’re denied that. I had to start reading a lot about what Blacks in this country went through.
I had to go as far back as how it all happened and how they became enslaved. Sometimes it was even Africans that sold them into slavery. In some cases, they were just found roaming around and they were captured.
They would actually put them into the boat and how they were positioned made it so they could get as many as possible in there. This meant they really had no room to even move because of the way they had to lay them in. A lot of them didn’t even make it, the few that did, they now had to encounter a totally different life from what they were used to.
I can’t even imagine. I have no idea about that and I’m African. I didn’t know about that and no one teaches you that. I went on my own journey of reading and discovering and it was, at that point that I made the decision to change my name.
Growing up, everyone knew me as Christy. Kwavi was actually my middle name. I want to be identified as Kwavi because that is my cultural heritage and that symbolizes who I truly am.
Back then, when I would be looking for jobs, I would put Chris as a shortened version of Christy. I would have Chris Bello on my resume. When I showed up for the interview, sometimes they wouldn’t talk with me. I could see the reaction on their faces as they saw me, because they didn’t expect me.
First of all, they were probably expecting a man because it was Chris and then Bello is also a name that Italians have. They were like, this is not what we expected. You can see it because they couldn’t mask.
I was just done with that and from then on, I decided to use a name that identifies who I am and the name that I’m way more comfortable with. And that’s when I changed my name during the nineties to Kwavi.
I live in Atlanta the place where Martin Luther King grew up. It’s the birthplace of civil rights and they have a lot of that history here but unfortunately, we still have the same struggles where the police brutality is excessive.
When I say police, I mean across the board, Black, White, Hispanic, across the board police brutality against Blacks. It needs to be addressed. Just because you wear a uniform, you can’t just use excessive force.
I’m not saying all of them are, but for the few that are, there needs to be special training or whatever needs to be done. You can’t just decide that because someone’s a teenager and they’re Black and they’re male, automatically they’re doing something wrong.
For teenagers, you don’t need to use that much force, especially when they’re not resistant. Some of the videos I’ve seen recently with regards to the protest, some things done are not necessary. The last few days have been difficult for me and I’m a coach, so I’ve tried my best to kind of self-coach myself.
I will say this, and most Black people would probably agree with me. It’s like, when we walk around, we already have this burden on us because of how people perceive us. We have this burden and then with all that’s happened, you have this extra burden. It’s been rough. It’s been hard. It’s been really difficult for me the last few days. I won’t deny that for sure.
When you have a platform, you have an obligation to speak up and that’s one of the things I’m watching now, because I’m seeing some not making any comments, some not making any statements.
I think you have to make a statement because if you don’t, guess what a lot of us are going to believe, that you agree with what’s going on right now. That’s just how it’s going to be perceived. And when you do make a statement, speak to others that know so you don’t put out stuff that makes it even worse. This whole process is education.
No one should be making that statement about being color blind anymore. It doesn’t work. It’s not true and it’s hurtful however much you may say it with love. When you say you don’t see color, that means you don’t see me because my blackness is part of who I am.
When you don’t see that, it means you only see a part, that you’re a female. I don’t see that you’re Black. But that’s what you see when you see me. I acknowledge that part of who I am, the experiences that have gone through me because I’m Black.
You’re almost discounting all of that and I know why you’re discounting, because it’s uncomfortable. But that’s what we have to be. We have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable about this topic. You have to talk about it, and you have to be uncomfortable because it’s an uncomfortable topic. It’s not pretty.
It’s not enough to say that you’re not racist because that is no longer enough. It’s easy to say that but what are your actions? What are you doing to make a change? If you just sayokay then that is all part of the White privilege, where you can just sit in your comfortable corner and not do anything, and it will be okay for you.
What about the others? Doesn’t it bother you that others can’t get a piece of this pie that you have been eating for so many years?If it doesn’t bother you, that means you’re part of the problem.
That means you’re enjoying this White privilege. Now the thing is, you can’t change your whiteness because that is who you are, but you can use it for good. This White privilege thing runs deep.
There are some statements I’ll make that people won’t listen to, but a White person would say it and they listen. But you know what? I’m okay if you’re going to stand up for us even if they don’t listen to me, if they’ll listen to you, use it. Use your whiteness for good.
If you don’t have a platform, read, educate yourself. There is a book entitled “The Hate U Give” which also has a movie version. It allows you to understand the struggles Black people face every single day. As soon as they walk out the door, that is what they experience. That gives you an insight and this movie does an amazing job and the book I’ve heard is even better.
Black American surnames are not even their own. They’re actually the name of whoever owned their ancestors. Even your name is not yours and you don’t know your heritage. You don’t know where you came from and that’s why genetic testing now is so powerful.
It’s so popular because they want to know what their DNA makeup is. Where am I actually from? I think it’s fundamental for anyone to know who came before them, who’s part of my heritage.
In order for this to be solved, more White people need to come on board. It’s just not going to happen without that, so we need you to help us with this.
Black parents need to teach their children how to keep themselves safe and the sorts of things they have to learn at quite a young age, which White or Asian parents need not go through.
We have to go through this. We have to tell our sons, don’t play music too loud. The bottom, line is, you don’t want to draw attention to yourself. Teenagers like loud music and that’s the norm. I always have to tell them not to make it too loud.
When you go into a store, make sure you’re not touching anything that you’re not purchasing. When you purchase something, make sure you get a receipt. I heard from a parent when I posted about this few days ago on social media. She responded to the post and said her 12-year-old son in England is scared to go to the shops by himself because he went to the shops once and as soon as he walked out, the police officer asked him where his receipt was. He didn’t have a receipt. It was a piece of gum.
Why do I have to explain that to my young boys? I have to because I want to make sure they’re safe. I want to make sure that when they leave the house that they come back.
Make sure you have your driver’s license with you at all times. I’m sure there are readers who have left the house without a license and won’t even think too much about it, but not as a Black boy. No, make sure you put your hands up. Make sure you don’t move your hands.
In that movie, the Black kid was reaching for something else and the cop thought he was reaching for a gun. The presumption is that you’re always doing something wrong and that’s the problem.
For a lot of people, the image they have of Black people is still the lowest of the low. You can’t do anything. You’re a slave. I own you. You’re my property and for a lot of people, that image is still there even though it’s changed over the years. It’s like all of a sudden, this person who was considered not really a human being, has now risen up and is participating in life like you are, but not quite.
It is unfortunate because we didn’t have the same equal footing. We’ve had to struggle a lot more, a lot harder. In terms of funding and everything, it’s just not the same in White neighborhoods as Black neighborhoods. White flight happens still; when Blacks move into a nice neighborhood, the White people leave.
There’s always something going on. Whenever we try to move up a little bit, no, you can’t have that and there are people that hold on to that. I think a lot of White people feel that if we get the same opportunities they have, they’ll lose theirs.
I really believe that the core of all of this is White people feel that they will lose out if Black people have more, if people get more opportunities. We don’t get the same access. It’s like, you don’t want us to have the same access because you’re enjoying yours and you feel, if we come in there, you might not get as much anymore.
How to I experience racism every day? Through my boys especially. I know my boys are gonna be perceived differently. And that alone is part of my struggle. My boys will go out there and they’re seen as a Black teenager.
And even my husband. Black men are perceived very differently. If a cop stops us, my heart is gonna be beating fast because you hear all these stories. They haven’t done anything, and they end up getting killed and that is my fear.
If I get stopped by the cops, I’ll probably be so scared, I just hope I don’t say or do the wrong thing. I’m going to be honest with you because all I have are the images of what’s happened to people and it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, because we’ve seen it. This happened to females too.
You’ve heard of people like the guy in Central Park (Christian Cooper ) and that guy is Harvard educated. When they see me, they don’t know what I’ve done. They don’t know what I’ve experienced. All they see is a Black person.
The Central Park incident was irritating. That was just like, you’re weaponizing your whiteness. She knew the power she had as she wielded it. It was for her advantage. It was wrong on so many levels. But you know what? A lot of people are doing that.
I bring that up to say that it doesn’t matter what I’ve experienced. It doesn’t matter I’ve traveled. It doesn’t matter that my husband’s a physician. It has nothing to do with it. All they see is a Black person.
People have to protest because without protesting, nothing’s going to be good. How do you make your voice heard? How do you let people know that they have a grievance? How do you get people to know that? You protest and that’s what people do.
I really hope it gets better. I think for readers that are non-Black specifically, educate yourself. This is not an issue that you can just kind of say, okay, you know, it doesn’t apply to me, so it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t apply to you because you’re White, so you might not experience what I go through, but it applies to you because you’re part of the human race. It’s not enough for you to just sit back. Educate yourself on what’s going on.
You never know, your son, your daughter, your friend might marry a Black person and guess what? That child will go through this. Once you’re Black, this is your burden to bear. It’s just how it is.
But it can get better if more White people become more educated about what’s going on. I think for a long while, White people thought it’s not their problem. But it’s everyone’s problem. It’s universal.
When you have a country like America that has an opportunity to address it and doesn’t, it makes it worse. I think we all need to do our part. It’s a big problem and not one person can solve it, but we can start in our own homes by educating ourselves and educating our children, educating our friends about what’s going on.
It’s a big issue and it’s not enough to say, because I know a lot of people say, “all lives matter.” All lives matter. All lives don’t, because Black lives don’t matter, so all lives really don’t matter and that’s the truth.
When I say Black lives matter, it doesn’t mean that I negate that all lives matter. It’s just that historically, Black lives haven’t mattered and that’s why we have to do this and focus on specifically Black lives, because in the past no one has cared.
We matter. We bleed. If I get cut, I’m going to bleed. If you get cut, you’re going to bleed. Why does my life have to be less significant than yours? It’s hard. It’s tough. When situations like this happen, it brings it to the forefront and the thing for us is, we deal with this daily.
You feel it gets even heavier to deal with because you see it in front of your eyes. Someone being killed because of their color. This wasn’t someone that was put in jail, but someone that was killed on the street. Someone’s child, killed on the street, in front of everyone.
I think everyone has an obligation to do something. You can do something. If you don’t, that means you’re agreeing with what is going on. If you don’t say anything, that means you agree with it.
I know it’s uncomfortable for some of you, but that’s the point. This isn’t a comfortable situation. Think about us Black people that have been going through this. It’s not comfortable for us. It has never been. Until there’s change, it never will be.
I really appreciate you giving me this platform to speak up on this topic, because it’s so important and more people just need to know. I’m learning too because I don’t know everything.
If everyone takes the steps, you’re taking massive action. We all need to take those little steps forward to make a difference. We all need to do that. So hopefully others will.
Whoever’s reading this, share with other people. Share this information so that other people can learn from this, because I know other people want to do something, but don’t know how.
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