This week, I spoke with C.J. Wilcher, a Class of 2020 Xavier commit from Newark, New Jersey, about his experience as a young Black man in America, the current state of the country, how we grow as a society and more.
Conversation is at the core of understanding, and understanding heals and prevents these wounds from occurring. This was our dialogue.
C.J. Wilcher x Justin Meyer – An open dialogue on race in America
Justin Meyer: Hi C.J., thank you for having this conversation with me. I know you have some things on your mind that you’d to get out there.
C.J. Wilcher: The whole thing is something I would like to speak on. Not only speak on what happened with George Floyd in particular but just speak on the things that my family has been talking to me about and things I feel about: racism and prejudice in our country. That’s something I hold to home, because I am African American.
I was talking to my girlfriend yesterday, and we were talking about how it trickles down to even education. Where I live at, it’s a predominately Black and Hispanic community. And the education isn’t that good. You go two miles up the street to Scotch Plains, the education is 10 times better. I feel like it’s been controlled. It’s been controlled and limiting. I was talking to my mother about it last night. We were talking about how knowledge is power. In school, in history classes, we need to talk about the things that Black people did, the inventions that Black people created and how it impacted society and how we live now, unknowingly. If you were to tell that to children in school, that would give them confidence, that would give them power, and that takes away the controlling they will have.
I just want peace as a whole. Everybody wants equality, but equality is something you strive for, but it won’t necessarily be obtained, at least not in our lifetimes. My big thing is, you want to look for respect. When you respect somebody, you won’t go to them and pull them over for no reason. You won’t shoot them, because you won’t feel threatened. You respect them as a human being, not for the color of their skin, but for who they are as people. At the least, as people. I’m big for that.
People don’t understand that when you look for equality, it’s equal all the way around. So, when you have equality, there’s nothing different between a white person and a Black person, so we can’t get caught up in, “I want equality but forget white people, forget these things,” even though that’s what they’re doing to Black people. For us to obtain peace, we have to be able to, I’m not doing to say get passed it, because these things are things you can never get passed. It’s part of our history. It’s been part of our country’s culture for years. But for us to be able to obtain peace as a country and as a whole, we have to find a common ground.
My thing is just respect. You respect the person for a human, for a human being, then these things won’t happen. Police brutality won’t happen. Equality will be easier to obtain when you respect the people as human beings.
At the end of the day, Black people aren’t looking for revenge necessarily, you know? They just want equality. Every Instagram post, every Twitter post, it says equality, not revenge. We’re not trying to get back at white people. We’re looking for respect. You’re looking for equality, and to achieve equality, you have to have respect. That’s the main thing I’ve been feeling lately.
JM: The respect thing is at the core. There’s a clear disrespect there on the basis of people being other. That’s what it comes down to.
CW: That’s literally what it is. It’s just somebody different.
JM: It’s not like seeing skin that is darker or lighter makes people angry. It’s like, that culture is different, those people speak differently, they have a different tone, they have different lingo, they have different values, they do different things, I don’t understand it. I don’t respect it, because it’s not what I grew up with. And that’s the core.
CW: Agreed. I also feel, my opinion on the rioting, I personally agree with it. You have to do whatever you can to be heard, to be seen. Not only to be heard and be seen, but to be understood. It’s different. I can talk to you, and you can hear me, but the understanding for what I’m saying, and what you’re saying to me, there’s a mutual understanding of what’s going on. That’s the main thing. You can hear anything. People can speak on anything, and it’s not understood. So, I think that’s the main thing about rioting. But one thing I disagree on, and strongly disagree on, is that predominately where these riots and things are happening is in Black communities. And through the rioting, people are destroying those Black-owned businesses.
Now, I understand you’re angry, things need to be broken, things like that. But I strongly believe you can’t destroy, because it becomes a war. It becomes like a war. It becomes like a battle between two nations. But when you’re at battle, you don’t destroy the equipment. You don’t destroy the value and things that people are working on that you’re fighting with. You’re fighting with these people, but you’re destroying their things in the process. You’re destroying it, not them. White people are destroying it as well, but you’re pretty much helping them destroy it.
That’s something me and my dad talk about. We drive down parts of town and see gentrification. You see things start to change up, which raises the prices, which essentially makes the minorities move further away. Destroying your own property, destroying Black communities, you’re destroying Black-owned business and giving opportunity for white people to come in and gentrify your area. That’s my thing. Black people are all fighting for one cause.
Do not destroy what your fellow Black person, your fellow Black man, your fellow Black woman, has been building for years, something they’ve strived for. I understand things will be broken in the midst of it. I just don’t agree with the destroying of your community as a whole. I understand targeting police stations. I understand targeting courts, targeting police cars and things like that. Even stores that have been racially profiling you. But I totally disagree with destroying Black-owned businesses. I know there are two sides to every story, and I know what comes with it: the destruction of the community as a whole. But I feel that’s something that needs to be said. I honestly feel that way.
JM: Here’s what I think a lot of people miss and are intentionally led to miss. Martin Luther King said very accurately that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” How often do we have widespread, national protests and riots on this level? Very infrequently. The last time was more than 50 years ago, 1968. That was the last time. It should be apparent to people that these things don’t just happen. People had to get pushed really far. Not that the murder of George Floyd isn’t a travesty, of course it is. But that was not enough to push the nation to this point. That’s the reality.
CW: It’s a buildup.
JM: You have millions of people across the whole country who are going, “Nothing has worked, I am so, so angry of feeling like I have no voice here, I just have to burn things.” Is the problem that people are burning things, or is the problem that so many people feel so disenfranchised that they don’t think they have another choice?
CW: I understand that. I get that. There’s a lot going on. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely understand that. You get to a brink. You hold anger in, and then you get to a point where you just explode in anger. That’s where we’re at as a country, but especially as Black people in America. I feel like it can’t be up and down and wishy washy when it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement becoming something that should always be the case. Black lives should always matter, even when Black people aren’t being brutally beaten by cops. Even though there isn’t a time where Black people aren’t brutally beaten, it can’t get to a point where it becomes a trend to shine light or shine awareness to the Black Lives Matter movement, or that all Black lives matter.
I’m big on peace and wanting to have peace, but we cannot say all lives matter when it’s obvious that Black lives do not matter, or minorities lives do not matter as a whole. How will we ever move on as a country if that’s still happening? It’s like we’re staying in the same place and history keeps repeating itself. Where will there be change?
Every state has had a protest, which means that there is progress, but at the end of the day, is there really progress? Malcolm X has a quote: “If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress.”
That’s where we’re at right now. Yeah, things have gotten better from 60 years ago to now, but it’s not gone. There’s not enough respect, because Black people are still being killed. Black people are still being targeted as being dangerous or someone to be extra cautious for. That core piece of it is still the same. At the end of the day, if that’s the same, is there really any difference, or is this a different degree? That’s something that should be said, and it should be noted by everybody.
Throughout these times, my dad and I have really been talking about things like this. We all have to be able to educate ourselves on Black history and understanding where this comes from. In understanding, we won’t make ignorant comments. We’ll be able to back up our feelings and emotions with facts instead of just facts that everybody knows. It’s a deeper thought process, deeper meaning towards understanding the history of our country. Not just Black lives, the history of our country.
It’s pretty much the backbone and what our country has been built off of: racism. In understanding that, you’ll be able to articulate yourself differently. You’ll be able to hold yourself to a different standard, because you know what you’re talking about. Go back and listen to Louis Farrakhan, and you really listen to Martin Luther King instead of just listening to the “I Have A Dream” speech that everybody in the world probably knows about. Listen to quotes and read quotes from Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad, people like that. Really studying those things.
At the end of the day, no matter what the situation may be, this will always be a part of our history as a country. As long as there is a United States of America, racism and slavery and everything building up to this point now will be a part of our history. So, I feel like doing your due diligence, I would say, being a Black person in America, it is pretty much your job to understand your history of what’s going on, the history of things going on.
JM: I would raise that, and I would say, as an American, it is your responsibility to know American history. That would help us all from avoid falling into this situation.
CW: For sure, that’s even higher. As an American, it is your obligation to learn about it. I agree with that.
JM: I feel very strongly about that. Earlier today, I met with two white people knowing that we would be discussing these protests, police brutality, race and more, and I had a good idea of what I was entering into. There were times where I felt like my head was spinning. As I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear, I got hit with, “Well then why are there so many Black people on welfare then?” I pulled out the quote that was given by John Ehrlichman, the domestic policy chief for Richard Nixon.
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
I think this is a problem that America and Americans have: when there’s a problem, we’re a quick-fix people. What can I throw a band-aide on? You can say, there’s a lot of Black people on welfare. You can say, more crime is committed by Black people than white people. These can be true statements. The conclusion from that should not be, this group of people is more violent. That makes absolutely no sense. Why would the pigment of somebody’s skin affect their attraction to violence? It makes no sense.
CW: Because it’s easy.
JM: Exactly right. It’s all about what’s easy. What’s easy to explain, because you know how deeply uncomfortable it is to face that? Deeply, deeply uncomfortable. Especially if you’re a white person and you don’t want to accept responsibility. You can say to yourself, “I don’t call people the N-word, and I got Black friends. They’re cool with me, so my hands are clean.”
You don’t have to have enslaved somebody to be part of the problem. It’s uncomfortable. That’s the root. I’m telling you, as a person who is white, as a person who has grown up around a lot of white people and a lot of privilege, the discomfort thing is huge.
CW: And it’s just as bad. Being a white person and not speaking up is just as bad as those police officers who are just watching this man kill George Floyd. You’re just standing by, not doing, not saying anything, not trying to stop the problem. You see there’s a problem, but you’re not trying to stop it.
People talk about white privilege, but at the end of the day, white privilege can help move on the process. There’s a lot of white people who are very into it, very heartfelt, fully committed to bettering the way of life for Black people. I’ve seen them at protests. You walking and protesting, it shows that you’re for a cause, but when you’re presented with the situation where you have to step in front, be able to speak up or get in front of a bad situation, and you don’t do it, that’s just as bad.
Yeah, you have friends who are Black. Yeah, you’re cool with Black people. But if you’re not stepping into that realm where you’re helping, physically helping, I’m not going to say just as bad, but you’re not really helping the cause.
Everything is systematic. It’s all about separating and conquering. When you create a system where the Black man is targeted, Black men are being killed by police officers, it’s hard for a Black man to get a regular job, they come to the drugs that were brought into their community in the early 1980s. It became something that was their source of revenue, which then resulted into gangs. And then, you have gang violence, because you’re in a system where you feel alone, so you have to join a gang to feel appreciated, feel a part of something, feel a part of a brotherhood or sisterhood. You’re eliminating the Black man from his family, so that Black man’s family ends up going on welfare and essentially controlled by the government. It controls how much money you make, controls what job you can get, controls how much food you can put on the table for your kid.
I feel like the Black man is the scariest part of our society, and that’s what it’s made up to be, when in reality, it’s not.
The system is literally created to take away the Black man from his family, to break up a Black family, and to attack and control. Like I said before, knowledge is power, and understanding that that’s the case, I feel like a lot of people don’t understand that’s what the system is for. A white person could commit the same crime and get six months and come out early for good behavior, but the Black man is still in there for 25 years.
There’s a lot of wrongful accusations for crimes. There are white people who are wrongly accused of a crime, but the rate is way higher for Black men, mainly targeting Black men, for wrongly accused crimes and being in jail for longer than they should have been. There’s a big gap, and it’s literally proven. A lot of people don’t know that.
JM: There is no logic in racism at all.
CW: None. None at all. I don’t get it.
The crazy thing is, people aren’t born racists. People are born with innocence, with lack of knowledge. Racism is taught. The fact that people are literally teaching their children to be racist for unknown reasons, is mindboggling. I don’t understand the point of thinking you’re better than, more than or have more to bring to the table than another person based on their skin.
What blows my mind, right, is that a lot of people believe that we’re all made in God’s likeness, God’s image. And I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m pretty sure there are a lot of racist people who believe that as well. So, if you believe that we’re all made in God’s likeness and image, how are you a racist? If we’re all made in his image, how are you better than the next person in any aspect, in any situation? How are you better than the next person if we’re all made in his image? That means the white man is no better than the Black man just because their skin is lighter. That doesn’t make any sense. It’s literally a contradiction of what your belief is.
I feel like some people are moving faster than the country is. We’re pretty much stagnant.
Black history is one month, which is February, the shortest month of the year. Everybody feels like we have to talk about the “I Have A Dream” speech. Everybody has to talk about Jackie Robinson. But nobody feels it’s necessary to get in-depth with the culture, with the history of what’s really gone on.
I remember in school, we had to pick a name of a Black person out of a hat and write a two-page essay about it. Meanwhile, we’re getting written tests on the Boston Tea Party, and we’re given two-month lessons on other things. I’m not saying the Boston Tea Party wasn’t impactful in our history, but you see how the value changes, because we get tested on those things. But we had to pick a name out of the hat! It’s not equal. It’s an attempt to satisfy with Black History Month with this little lesson or project, but we have whole, complete periods and semesters based on history that doesn’t pertain to everyone as a whole.
JM: The Boston Tea Party is a great thing to bring up. What do people think our country was founded on? What do people think the Boston Tea Party was? Do people not realize the violence of tar and feathering? It’s not playing around and having a pillow fight. This country is founded on revolt.
CW: Some people are taking advantage of the rioting by looting and destroying things just so they can feel something. It’s definitely a part of rioting, but some people make it about personal gain with it. We’re fighting for a cause. You have to rethink what you’re doing. It’s so selfish to me.
JM: It’s highly selfish. It’s also very human.
CW: Yep, very human. Very human.
Man, I just want peace. When I grow up and have a family, I just want to be able to take care of my kids, my responsibilities. I just want there to be peace. That’s why I wanted to have this conversation.
Get to know more about C.J. Wilcher, the man and the athlete.