“Go back to your own country or we will get you deported!” a voice shouted from the stands. There was shouting and screaming everywhere, and I felt dizzy for a moment.
“Stand up for the national anthem or get the hell out of here!” Trying to keep my composure, I kept my head down and closed my eyes. I could feel everyone staring at my team, who were all kneeling in a line as the national anthem played in the background: land of the free and the home of the brave…
It was my first varsity volleyball game of the season. We were playing in an area known to be quite conservative, and I thought I was prepared for the hate when my team decided to kneel during the national anthem before the game. I was sure I had already heard everything. It was always “you don’t belong here” or “go back to your own country”, but this was a totally different level. After taking home a win after the first game, our team was silent the entire bus ride home. Even though it was a victory, it didn’t feel like one. We did not regret out decision to kneel, but there were young girls on the freshman and JV team who were terrified.
The next morning, our phones exploded with rude, racist, and disgusting comments about us. Observers at the game had “reviewed” us on the Google Review page of our school, remarking that we were “a disappointment to the country” and “extremely uneducated and dumb”. At the same time, we had an immense amount of support and kindness towards us as well. Students from our school and even other schools took their time to message me and the girls on team, thanking us for our bravery and courage. Even they understood that our silent protest was very controversial and dangerous, but I still feel like it was necessary.
The very next week, the varsity coaches had quit, leaving the team shocked and hurt. One of the teams we had played made the theme of their home game “America”. I’m guessing this was to harass and intimidate us. Every time we had walked into someone else’s gym, there were Trump supporters wearing their shirts plastered with hurtful words. It was upsetting to realize that a school board consecutively made a decision to allow spectators to belittle 14- to 17-year-old girls at a game and gave them the perfect opportunity to execute whatever they had planned.
If people gave us a chance to explain the reason behind why we kneeled, I would have clarified in the most civil way possible. But because I did not get a chance to, here is my explanation: I am kneeling for Breonna Taylor, Daniel Prude, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Elijah McClain, and all the black people in this country who were killed under police brutality and an unjust law system. I am kneeling for all the people of color in this country who are treated unfairly on a day-to-day basis because of their race, ethnicity, and skin color. I am kneeling not to disrespect those who have laid down their lives for this country but to respect the fact that they did not sacrifice their life for a prejudiced America. True Americans are the people who care about the future of this country…they are people who will not let racial inequality and racism continue in the United States of America.
Our silent protest should make a statement to those who do not understand: we respect our country so much that we are fighting to make the phrase “land of the free and home of the brave” reality. We will not stand until that statement is true. When will real people stop becoming hashtags? When will our neighbors decide to sit down and listen to the other side of the conversation? Even though I am an Asian, I will never ever understand the inequality and injustice that black people face every single day. So as someone who will never experience nor understand, it is my duty to do everything I can to educate myself. Over these past couple months, I have learned so much about culture, respect, and kindness than I have learned in my entire lifetime.
I have read books, watched videos, and initiated conversations about race. This entire experience left me feeling empowered and desperate for change in this country. I truly believe that our country can make progress regarding racial equality and justice, but it takes both sides to compromise to make that advance. We have to learn to love one another and be willing to listen to those who have suffered from these events and experiences. This year has been a turmoil for all of us, but we have the ability to make it slightly easier for our neighbors by just listening. In the words of Malcolm X, “You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.”
ZiQing Kuang is a high school sophomore from Chandler, Arizona. She has worked with multiple magazines, including Girls’ Life Magazine. During her free time, ZiQing enjoys playing volleyball, reading, and watching her favorite shows on Netflix.