but not like you…
The following is a transcription of a speech delivered by Nelson Thomas at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Portsmouth, NH on 6/27/2020 at 3:30 pm EST.
My name is Nelson Thomas, and I’m privileged to be here today. In fact, I’m privileged in so many ways.
However, there is a difference between being privileged, and being privileged while black.
You see, I grew up in a tale of two cities — Plainfield, New Jersey.
This is a town where it is no surprise to see a home listed for a million dollars, and yet for years the public school system was an Abbott District — that is, the State of New Jersey had to literally take over the school district.
Then you come to realize that 90% of those million-dollar properties lie on the opposite side of a single red line.
And those who could afford to, do not send their children to the public schools.
Basically, the public schools in Plainfield, New Jersey in 1997, when I was born, and now in 2020 are segregated.
Not by law or by a mandate, but by the fact that wealth and power in this country are inextricably linked to the color of your skin.
That is the legacy of slavery and the years of Jim Crow.
I say I am privileged because, since kindergarten, I have gone to prep schools.
In fact, the last couple years of high school I went to boarding school, in a tucked-away corner of New England.
A real scene out of a Harry Potter movie.
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And, throughout my journey, I learned a few things.
I learned how to contribute enthusiastically, to places and communities where nobody seems to look like me — because now I represent everybody who looks like me…
I learned how to dance between a world that had become extremely familiar, but never quite felt like home.
I learned to be the one to educate; teach and correct.
I learned how to navigate.
I learned how to anticipate — the microaggressions that I knew were inevitably going to take place — that remind you that no matter how close the friendship, there is always that chance that it will end in a disappointing disconnect.
You get used to having to be the one to set the tone, as to how far the class discussions can go.
You get used to being challenged on the grounds of your race because you don’t quite fit neatly into the stereotype of the black athlete.
To be black and privileged is to be in conflict, constantly.
Never quite having a place to fit in — but feel guilty for not being thankful for the opportunity that so many others wish they had.
Trying not to fall prisoner to “the soft bigotry of low expectations” — and yet not come across as lacking appreciation for being “articulate”.
You can never just be — one seen as yourself.
No opportunity for normalcy…
In fact, you will only be seen when you are Trayvon or Jay-Z.
Only seen when you are Eric or LeBron.
Only celebrated for your generational achievements or your unspeakable tragedies.
And never accepted and appreciated for your daily victories and defeats.
Because, the demand here, has always been a demand written in our creed.
That all men are created equal.
Equality and justice for all.
That is the same ask my grandfather had and his father before…
Equality is what we seek.
The same opportunity to live a valued, and virtuous life.
To have a home, land, and property of our own.
To have a family, an honorable job with equitable pay, and be proud of the life that we have made.
That is what we seek…
The opportunity to go out at night in the street and not fear for our lives because we decided to wear a hoodie.
The opportunity to sleep peacefully throughout the night without the fear of execution in our beds.
The opportunity to raise our children in a world where we can look them in the eye, and tell them honestly, that it matters not the color of their skin, but the content of their character.
So as we march today, we march for that equality.
We march for those that have come before, so those that come after WILL not have to.
We march in the spirit that this America, the one we built, brick by brick, starts living up to the promises it was founded on.
And stops giving out awards for trying to…
No more trying, it is time to DO!
It is time, now, in this moment to answer the bell for whom it tolls —
And at the ballot box tomorrow (and the next day, and the day after that)
With every fiber,
For that equality.
- Thank you.