In this moment in history, it's important to me to put my voice out into the world - not just as an activist in my own right, but also to encourage other people that they, too, can use their voice, even if it's imperfect.
I remember reading and discussing racism in history class back in middle school. I was young, but I can recall thinking, 'Why didn't more people stand up and do something?' History teaches us that silence has rarely, if ever, worked to produce change. There is no such thing as a silent ally.
I empathize with people who don’t know what to say or might be worried about saying the wrong thing - but the truth is, we live in a day and age where it’s very easy to read the room and see what those around you are saying or doing. While silence seems like a wise decision to some, imagine if most of the people who came before us decided to stay silent for fear of saying the wrong thing. Some of what they were saying may not have been perfect, but they spoke up and they were part of the change that allowed me to even be writing this today. If no one had spoken up, I wouldn’t even be allowed to have an opinion, let alone contribute to something like this.
It’s because of vocal people that I have my rights. Recently, you could show your support by something as simple as posting a black square on social media, and that takes very little effort. I find people are more concerned about what others will think if they support something 'controversial' - although it's very sad that racism is considered to be too controversial for some to voice their opinions about.
Often in these situations, it’s less about having the right words or even words that will move a large crowd of people; it’s just about showing that you stand in solidarity. We are creating history right now… Our children will read about this moment in their history books. They will see these photos and watch these videos and not only see how so many were willing and determined to be heard, but how for the first time in history, we are driving almost an entire generation OF ALL PEOPLE to make change. All walks of life, all colors, all ages of people who have finally opened their eyes and realized that this is something well worth fighting for and that power in numbers is key.
History is constantly repeating itself, and while I feel that much has changed, we still have so much to do. We just now have a larger army to fight for it with us. I used to say all the time, “We need to be heard," and to back that up, walked in numerous marches, attended numerous rallies, and participated in numerous demonstrations and protests. What's encouraging to me is that I have never in my entire life seen a movement quite like this, with the number of people who have joined us.
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To the equestrian community ... The last two weeks have been ... well, eye opening to say the least. @chronofhorse really opened up the gates. In a good and bad way. In a good way, because the topic of the lack of diversity in this sport was a topic needing discussion. But also in a bad way because the topic of racism became a debate, which is just beyond me. These articles inevitably allowed opinions and comments that I personally wasn’t prepared for. This sport had always been a safe haven for me. This sport has caused me to develop an incredibly think skin, however the color of my skin was something I was born with and something that I only ever truly payed attention to when in the presence of other equestrians, predominately white equestrians. This isn’t a complaint, most of my friends are white, my family is white, and this industry is white. I learned to suppress my thoughts of looking different around the people I spent so much time with. However, this week I’ve never felt more different, I’ve never felt more black, and I’ve never felt more determined to be heard among voices that somehow overpowered mine, yet never came from the mouth of someone who looked like me. When the color your skin is the topic of discussion and debate between people you work with and people you barely know, you suddenly feel more different than you ever expected. You start to question the people that you work with and their opinions, you start to lose respect and trust for your friends who choose to remain silent during a time when you feel a need for people to stand in solidarity with you... all that being said, this sport needs to listen. They need to let US speak when discussing a matter that ONLY WE can understand, and they need to elevate the voices that are rarely if ever heard within our community. I love this sport, I love many of the people it has led me to, I embrace being different ... but I simply ask for people to just listen. #blacklivesmatter #blackequestrian #elevateblackvoices ❤️✊🏾🐴
It’s also important to understand that racism and police brutality against the black community won’t go away after the streets start to clear and the people start to go home. This is something we will be fighting for for years unfortunately, and George Floyd won’t be the last man that we march the streets for. The discussion we are having right now with our friends, family members and strangers online won’t be the last.
When I photograph these demonstrations (specifically those pertaining to BLM) I often group the photos together so that I can keep them in one gallery on my computer. When I was putting together the video that I made, it was so sad to realize that every single protest I had photographed over the years (BLM related) had a consistent pattern. “Don’t shoot” and “I can’t breathe”, Eric Garner, George Floyd, Freddie Gray... each of these men said the same final words. We shouldn’t be able to put our “I can’t breathe” signs in our closets knowing that there will be a 'next time' for us to use them. There shouldn't be a next time, period.
Back to what the community can do, and how people can help: I think people can help by speaking up, educating their children early (so many black people have to educate their children early about the dangers of simply being black). As we’ve seen the last 7 days, the youth is changing, they’re waking up, they’re realizing what’s important, and we need to continue making sure this happens so that eventually we will have a country that understands the value of a black life. It sounds simple and obvious, but for some reason, it’s not. We need to educate people on why black lives matter, and the meaning of black lives matter compared to 'all lives matter'.
We’ve gone from one epidemic to another, and while we’re still trying to find a vaccination for one, we will never find a vaccination for racism. So, we need the young people to stand with us, and for the first time in my life, I’m seeing that start to happen.
Featured image: Bethany (L) in the Compton Cowboys' Peace Ride in Los Angeles, CA. Photo by Lindsay Long.
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Written by Bethany Unwin
Bethany Unwin is the owner and trainer of Halcyon West in San Diego, California. She is a lifelong equestrian, rescuer of minis, hunter/jumper trainer, and an accomplished photographer. Follow her on Instagram at @bethanylately