Hearing even one slur or being the victim of a single injustice is simply one time too many.
Yet, sadly, Valour FC’s Andrew Jean-Baptiste will admit his personal experiences with racism and inequality are countless. Some of those memories have come flooding back to the defender over the last week, as the images of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis and the subsequent protests all over the world have flashed across his TV screen and jumped out from his social media accounts.
“What’s sad is the truth is right there in front of us, but so many refuse to see it,” Jean-Baptiste told CanPL.ca. “The reason this has reached the streets everywhere is because people all over the world know what it’s like to be oppressed. They’re following this movement not just in support, but because so many have experienced it themselves.
“This isn’t about revenge, this is to be simply judged as human beings. Judge us for the character you see, not for the character you are assuming because of our skin colour.”
Jean-Baptiste was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. to Haitian parents. He played his college soccer at Connecticut, was a first-round pick of the Portland Timbers in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft and has since played in Portland, New York, Los Angeles, Spain, Sweden and Malaysia before signing with Valour FC and settling into Winnipeg well before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
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What that means is the 27-year-old has been all over the world playing the game. And, unfortunately, those experiences have also taught him that racism and injustices are a global issue.
“I’ve seen racism, inequality and police brutality in some of the cities I’ve lived in,” he said. “Just the other day I was recalling a moment with one of my friends from when we lived in Spain.”
“We had been in a restaurant until closing and a lady working there had helped us order a taxi. When we came out of the door there were two patrol cars, four cops, all telling us to get up against the wall. I was with an Argentinian, a Colombian and me as a black man, who has pretty decent Spanish. Our other friend was white – he spoke the worst Spanish of all of us – but we had to have him do all the talking because we felt like it was the best way to diffuse the situation.
“That’s the world we live in; that’s what we have to teach our kids. It’s often beyond showing respect, it’s sometimes about being submissive in order to be safe. That’s wrong.”
He added: “Stuff like that, it’s happened multiple times. I’ve been followed around in stores because there was the thought I would steal something. I’ve been pulled out of a car and asked by cops to show them my ID. Knowing what they’re doing is wrong… I still did what I was told when in the back of my mind I’m thinking, ‘Why do I have to do this?’ I did it not to be submissive, but because I was scared for my life.
“As I get older I want to be the kind of person who stands strong against the abuse of power, but my life is at risk every single time I use my voice against any authority. So, what do you do?”
Jean-Baptiste stressed the violence and looting he sees from some of the protests is disturbing, and those kind of actions destroy the principle of marching to be heard and to make a statement. At the same time, he’s encouraged that the protests have featured so many from different races and ethnicities.
“The next best step forward, if you recognize that you have your privilege, is to also help be a voice for the people that don’t,” he said. “You can help spread awareness and voice your disgust for what’s happened because you don’t agree with it.
“Racism is taught. No one is born with a hateful bone in their body. But if you have your parents or others teaching you that, then you will grow up with it. Do your research and understand that this is clearly an issue that the whole world is behind.
“Then if you still can’t see it when it’s this obvious and in your face then, sadly, you are also part of the problem.”