Lessons From Layshia: A Reflection on Black History Month

Note: Lessons from Layshia is a blog series written by Indiana Fever guard Layshia Clarendon. Clarendon is a noted social advocate and writer, who is often asked to lend her voice and opinions on various social topics.

I am a big believer in knowing and playing your role. Nothing teaches you that more than becoming a professional in your field. As a basketball player, I consistently try to balance embracing my role and getting better simultaneously. Do the little things and the big things will come. It’s like the Field of Dreams of goal setting.

Do the little things and the big things will come.

I understand the size of my platform and I embrace it. I don’t come with any preconceived notions of where I fall on the food chain.

Last month was Black History Month. I found my inbox fuller than usual. Publications were looking for a voice, a specific voice. They wanted to feature someone who is black. There was suddenly a window where my voice was in a position to be amplified and the opening was small.

29 days.

It’s no secret I am willing to speak up. But I have never had these publications reach out to me before.

I believe in the importance of Black History Month. While I agree philosophically with those who say it “should just be history taught year round”, the truth is that it’s not and that won’t change without real intention. Black History Month is a part of that intentionality. The history of black people in this country can’t be confined to Martin Luther King, Jr. It can’t start and end with slavery. We need to acknowledge and shed light on the entirety of it in the same ways we do with Anglo culture. I grew up in the public school system and was taught nothing more than slavery and MLK Jr. I don’t even recall learning about Malcolm X. I have had to take my education into my own hands. Over the last few years I’ve found musicians, civil rights activists, artists, Nobel Prize winners, astronauts, teachers, judges, writers…none of which I had learned about growing up. But at the same time, business/publications/people can’t only want to headline these stories as a way to check a box. I have a ton of great things to say. There are plenty of black voices that should be highlighted throughout the year, not only when a “black voice” is needed.

Racism isn’t a “black” issue or something that only affects people of color. It hurts all of us. I don’t hate white people, I hate white supremacy. It’s the idea that white people are superior to all other races. This type of rhetoric is dangerous and debilitating for all. I think more people than not would agree that we are all equal. I think if more people understood that this is a system, not an attack on individual people, they would hate white supremacy also.

It’s become easier to talk about LGBT issues than to talk about race – imagine falling into both categories. It’s the elephant in the room. It’s uncomfortable. But beyond people’s’ comfort lies a constant reality for people of color. People who live, breathe, and walk with that discomfort daily. I urge us all to take the time to listen and understand each other more. Our full potential as humans can only come to fruition when we have a full, equal community with fairness, equity and reciprocity.

I urge us all to take the time to listen and understand each other more.

I am thankful to have the role I have and look forward to it evolving. But as that happens, my voice will continue to be amplified only in spaces that have a genuine desire to hear it.