Sixers' Tobias Harris delivers strong message about racism, police brutality in personal essay

Noah Levick
NBC Sports Philadelphia

In an essay published Wednesday morning in The Players' Tribune, Tobias Harris delivered a strong message about racism and police brutality in America while also providing insight into how his perceptions about race have been shaped. 

The piece is headlined, "Y'all Hear Us, But You Ain't Listening." Harris begins by framing the conversation about the death of 46-year-old black man George Floyd, who was killed last week in police custody when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for over eight minutes. Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, while the three other officers on the scene were fired but haven't been charged.

"But if we gon' talk about what happened to George Floyd," Harris writes, "there needs to be a baseline acknowledgement of the reality: A white police officer killed an unarmed black man, and he was able to do it in broad daylight, with three other cops watching, because of the color of his skin.

"And don't reply to me with, ‘Oh, but this person did this.' Don't try and make excuses, or say this isn't about race. In a lot of my conversations with white people lately, I'm getting that statement over and over again: ‘Let's stop making this about race.'" 

Harris draws a sharp juxtaposition between President Donald Trump's characterization of protestors against stay-at-home orders in place because of the coronavirus pandemic and Trump's language about protestors who have marched around the country in the aftermath of Floyd's death. 

Last month, armed men took over the steps of Michigan's capitol building. To protest the QUARANTINE.

And what did the President call them?

'Good people.'

But we go out and protest that another black life has been taken senselessly, and we're 'THUGS.'

Come on.

This is why black Americans are angry.

Harris writes that "the killing of Trayvon Martin was a turning point for me." 

"When he was killed, all because he looked ‘suspicious' for wearing a black hoodie at night in his own neighborhood, I realized that that could have been my brother," he writes. "Once you really sit with that, it's a really scary feeling. I had to get out of my own NBA bubble, and understand that there's a different world out there. Not everybody can get in a nice car every day, drive to work, come home, work out, and be O.K. People go through different s---. Every. Single. Day. I had to come to grips with that."

He later reflects on the obligation he feels to speak on behalf of black people who don't play in the NBA or have celebrity status and cites the late Muhammad Ali as an inspiration.

The way I look at it? If people in my community are oppressed, then so am I. Shout out to Muhammad Ali, one of the biggest role models in my life, for showing the way. He was never scared to take a stand against INJUSTICE.

"I've also had to get uncomfortable in knowing who I am - knowing that, yeah, I made it to the NBA, and that's changed some things for me in terms of how I'm treated. I don't have it the same as the next person. I've come to grips with the fact that yes, I'm black, but that dude that's getting pulled over by a cop in his car, he don't have the luxury of that officer recognizing him.

"That's the problem. The difference between a cop recognizing you or not shouldn't be life or death. 

Harris says he's glad he protested on Saturday in Philadelphia after regretting a missed opportunity to march in Orlando in 2013, about a year after Martin's death.

"On Saturday in Philly, it was about a togetherness of people pushing out a message. And that message was really about respect. It was about people respecting others, and understanding their hurt and their pain."

Another interesting topic Harris covers is the deficiencies he sees in what kids are taught about black history, and his individual efforts to fill in knowledge gaps. He also covers his own work mentoring young people in the Philadelphia area and the disparities he's observed "between a school in North Philly out here, and a school in the Main Line of Lower Merion."

The entire piece is worth a read. 

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Sixers' Tobias Harris delivers strong message about racism, police brutality in personal essay originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

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