When Baron Davis woke up Tuesday morning and scrolled through Instagram and Twitter on his phone, he had mixed emotions. Nearly every post was a black square with the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackOutTuesday written as a caption.
He put his phone down after a while. The images turned into one big black blur that had lost its meaning and anyone that had looked up #BlackLivesMatter for information in recent days was now greeted with what had essentially become a black wall on a very important day in the country.
Eight states and Washington, D.C., held primary elections Tuesday, making it the most consequential primary night since Super Tuesday. Davis wasn’t sure this was the best day for millions to simply post a black square with two hashtags, one which diluted an important source of information for many, on social media and take the rest of the day off.
“With ‘Black Out Tuesday’ on social media and what’s going on, you have to be careful because messages get watered down,” Davis said. “A lot of times there’s great intent and great purpose but that intent and that purpose is not necessarily a common feeling and a common thought … so that message, which could potentially be incredibly powerful because today is a voting day and informative because today it’s a voting day (gets lost).
“I want to support the movement but at the same time I can’t sit still and be silent when I know there’s information that we need to share because we can take action today. We can motivate action today. It’s interesting because we should be planning what we want with this next election and we’re caught in this crux where timing is getting short and everything that we’re trying to do that has intent and purpose is not really matching up to what’s actually happening in real time.”
Davis, who was born in Los Angeles and grew up in South Central, was 13 years old when the last major riots broke out in the city in 1992. He went to high school at Crossroads, college at UCLA and enjoyed a 13-year NBA career, which included three seasons with the Clippers. He has been vocal on social media during these recent protests because he wants to see actual lasting change this time, which didn’t take place 28 years ago.
“I grew up in the riots and I experienced all that as a kid,” Davis said. “My friends did and my family did, and after the riots, we didn’t have anything. Nobody came to save us. Nobody came to reinvest in us. As a kid, it’s almost like living in a place that has no opportunity or outlet for the future. You’re already in those conditions and you’re going to make those conditions worse.”
Davis was teammates with Stephen Jackson for two seasons with the Golden State Warriors from 2006-2008. Jackson was close friends with George Floyd, whose death at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department has sparked nationwide protests.
“When I saw George Floyd, I would say any black man that has grown up having interactions or run-ins with any kind of prejudice or racism or police in a negative aspect, could put themselves under that knee,” Davis said. “First of all, that man is a man. He is a human being. He has every right to live. Whether your black, whether you’re green, yellow, Asian, Hispanic, people start to see themselves under that knee.”
Davis on Tuesday posted a black square on Instagram with the caption, “This is for George the people fighting the real fight #blackisbeautiful” but followed it up with another post which read, “Today is a voting day. Why are we going silent? I’m confused. We want to vote or not?” As Davis sat in his backyard Tuesday morning, he was hopeful that people would not just be content with posting something on social media but would actually vote in primaries taking place Tuesday, next week, next month and the presidential election Nov. 3.
“I want us to learn from the past,” Davis said. “Keep that emotional spirit and keep that energy but let’s use our minds for standing up. You’re seeing that around the country even in the wake of a pandemic that we’re still going through. People are frustrated. People are out of jobs. It’s disheartening when all those emotions are bottled up inside your house. People are tired. We’re tired. We don’t want to be a part of an institution that persecutes people, that harms people, that misjudges people and frustrates people.”
It has been hard for Davis the past couple of days to watch on television the peaceful protests devolve into riots as many of his friends’ stores have been looted and vandalized in the destruction that has taken place around Los Angeles, which misrepresents what the protests are about.
“You’re hurting and you’re going through all these emotions and you start seeing your friends’ stores burning down and you’re like, ‘Yo, that’s their baby,’” Davis said. “It hurts because they come from here, they were raised here, they’re trying to build here, they care and they’re employing kids and none of this is right.”
Davis believes that unlike in 1992 there will be positive long-term change that comes from these protests. The difference is not just asking for change but specifically mapping out what that looks like over time and making sure elected officials follow through with those plans and promises.
“I truly believe a change is coming,” he said. “I truly believe that people want change. I think people want leadership and direction and I think the way that we help that is we start really thinking about our power. Think about what we did over these last two weeks. Think about how much energy we put into that. Now we’re at the front door and now we need to take that energy and start figuring out what we want and what we want to ask for.”
As Davis looked at his phone for updates on social media Tuesday, he smiled when he was asked about his shirt, which read, “Stay black and live.”
“Being a black person is the most amazing thing in the world,” Davis said. “It’s also the most frustrating. You’re also the most misunderstood. You’re also the most stereotyped. You’re also the most feared. The perception of black people in America is not what a black person is. I wouldn’t want to be anything else. Regardless of everything we’ve been through, we’re still here. We’re still prideful. We still love to laugh. We still love to dance. We still love making music. We still love talking politics. We still love hugging. We still love healing. We still love protecting. The goal for me in staying black and living is bringing that joy to the next generation.”