Kyle Kuzma’s disconcerting account of the path he endured discovering his multi-ethnic identity was in full display Tuesday when he gave folks a look into the world of coming from a white mother and black father.
In his personal essay on The Players Tribune, Kuzma gives a synopsis of his Flint, Mich. roots and how that has shaped his perspective on racism in this country, spelling out how police brutality is a piece to a larger puzzle of structural and systemic racism spreading across hiring, health care, housing, the prison industrial complex, education, colorism - and the list goes on.
The system has been exposed time and time again, as with the financial crisis in 2008 and when Hurricane Katrina made landfall in 2005. We’ve seen it with the current pandemic, in which black folks account for 16.8% black unemployment and over 23 % of the deaths from COVID-19, despite making up just 12.5% of the U.S. population. Black neighborhoods are the areas political leaders cut resources from the most when balancing their annual city budgets, resulting in generational catastrophic damage ultimately rooted in racism.
The social structure has been perpetuated by a racial inequity and an evolving caste system for centuries. When the idea of black folks reaching for equality surfaces “white lash” swoops in to knock it down.
Those sitting at the top then weaponize blame, projecting it forth into the white hierarchy majority. This results in a more intricate system of white control, with black folks being pushed further behind.
The social system in this country will never naturally allow black folks to rise to the top. There has to be a reprogramming in white America that is intentional about transferring some of the power and responsibility into the hands of black americans.
“You know, back when this all started, during slavery, the one thing that the white man feared was a black man that had a mind of his own,” Kuzma wrote.
As Kuzma highlights in the piece, this is why we see slashed education budgets in black neighborhoods, the push to make sure black folks remained illiterate — not knowing their history, lack of ability to build economic independence, and the easiest form of racism to see if you flick on the TV and scroll to a cable news station other than Fox — voter suppression.
On Tuesday, Georgia once again was at the center of insidious tactics by its GOP leaders to deter voters in predominantly black neighborhoods on the South side of Atlanta.
Voters on Atlanta’s south side were waiting three, four, sometimes five hours to cast their ballot in the primary election — and some voting precincts didn’t have a working voting machine in sight, which pressured folks into using a provisional ballot, a hazy way of implementing the 15th Amendment. Black voters’ right to cast a ballot is reliant on the very system that suppresses them, as a poll worker has to input the voter’s ballot manually. Columbia, South Carolina also ran into extremely long voting lines in Richland County, which is roughly 50 percent black.
“The biggest concern is that we are going to see policies rolled out throughout our state (Georgia) that will disenfranchise disproportionately black and brown communities,” said Aklima Khondoker a voting rights advocate with All Voting Is Local. “That is very unfortunate and that is just because we have these systems and institutionalized racism in our election system that are allowing these issues.”
Khondoker added that When We All Vote sent a list of demands to the Georgia Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, asking for an “implementation of strategies across the state” that are uniform across all 159 counties.
Khondoker believes that when athletes are aware of voter suppression methods used in black and brown neighborhoods they can use their platform to hold local leaders accountable and better inform the community.
“The more people that can get out a message the more clearly that message will travel,” said Khondoker. “It will get to the folks that have to hear it, people that have influence or people that have a broad base of support on their social media pages to tweet out ‘Do your job Georgia Secretary of State. Insure fair and safe elections.’”
Kuzma was one of those messengers as well.
His Lakers teammates have created organizations to bridge the gap between black voters and the overall process of casting a ballot.
Kuzma says he will be creating a voting campaign that highlights when every primary and general election will take place in all 50 states. He wants folks to keep an eye out for local and state candidates that will reallocate city budgets, moving funds toward education and health care instead of blindly using resources to crowd black neighborhood streets with police.
James, on the other hand, will be starting his own African American voter outreach organization, More than A Vote, with Trae Young, Skylar Diggins-Smith, and Jalen Rose.
These organizations hope they can push leaders of states with a long history of voter suppression aside permanently.
When Stacy Abrams ran for the governor of Georgia in 2018, the same tactics used suppress black voters were similar, if not worse than in 2020. Brian Kemp, the current governor, was able to oversee his own election. In 2018, Kemp was the state’s Secretary of State and worked with outside groups to purge 560,000 registered voters from voting rolls and cancelled more than 1.4 million voter registrations over a seven-year span.
Abrams lost that election by less than 50,000 votes.
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that local governments could make revisions to the Voting Rights Act without federal clearance, which is why Georgia has also closed 213 precincts, unfettered, in the last seven years. Sadly most of those precincts are in concentrated black counties in the state.
Broken down machine?
Five-hour waiting time?
Purged voting roles?
Closed voting precincts?
Mainly in the black neighborhoods?
As Kuzma said in his piece, “society made it that way.”
During this moment in time, in the midst of the pandemic, with protest and unrest in every corner of the country, the one blessing iis that people like Kuzma, James, and other professional athletes are realizing how the institutions in our country uphold a racist system.
Their presence and voice during this monumental time is important in order to move the needle toward revolutionary system change. As Malcolm Jenkins told me last year when Pennsylvania passed the Clean Slate Act, politicians are more likely to get legislation done if someone of influence is present making the request.
“When we show up, we have cameras, we can give meetings, and we can put a lot of public pressure on those who are on the fence or who are ultimately responsible for giving it a yes or no,” Jenkins said.
The system is currently working as it was designed, and, based on Georgia Lieutenant Governor Geoff Ducan’s interview on CNN’s New Day, it doesn’t appear there is a tangible plan to fix the broken machines. And tumultuous times await before the November election.