"Silence is violence" has been one of the phrases painted on protest signs and written in Instagram posts following the murder of George Floyd. But for many Black people, saying those words can feel like a broken record. Since the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, the wounds of racism and inequality have not only sparked outrage but also activism — and tennis champion Naomi Osaka, who is of Haitian and Japanese descent, has taken up the charge on a global stage.
During the US Open in September, the athlete wore seven different masks with the names of Black men and women who were killed at the hands of police brutality and racial discrimination. When ESPN reporter Tom Rinaldi asked what message Osaka intended to get across with her masks, without missing a beat she turned the question back on him asking, “Well, what was the message you got, is more the question. I feel like the point is to make people start talking.”
Now, Osaka is continuing the conversation in a new commercial promoting the new Beats by Dre Flex headphones. In the video, she prepares for a tennis match, stretching her wrists and watching the countdown clock before walking toward the court and showing us the phrase "Silence is violence" spelled out in beads across her braids. The commercial is one of three in the campaign featuring her boyfriend and rapper, Cordae, and Alabama-born rapper Flo Milli as they promote activism and resistance against the historical constraints of white supremacy.
Osaka's Instagram caption underneath the video captures her self awareness and the power she holds to fight for equality for Black people. "As a kid growing up I never really talked, I was the quiet one (honestly still am lol), I was the one that wanted to just skate by unnoticed and conflict-free," she wrote. "But the beauty of growing up is learning and seeing things for yourself, one of the things I’ve learned is that everyone has a platform and how they use it is their responsibility. As I grow more I will learn more things, but at the moment I can only hope I’m using my platform well."
Like Lizzo's call to engage us to vote by wearing a braided "40%" atop her head last month, Osaka reminds us that there is power in Black hair. Not only is it beautiful, but when it takes up space — much like our voices — it is impossible to deny its presence.