When Colin Kaepernick started taking a knee during the national anthem last year, and then explained - although not in a very articulate way, granted - why he was doing so, my first thought was "Good for you!" My second thought was "Not sure the anthem is the most effective time for it."
I still think both those thoughts today.
But with the outpouring of outrage this weekend, I have some additional random thoughts as well.
Your Freedom Might Not Be The Same As Mine
Wanna know what I was hearing, all the time, this weekend? A bunch of white folks agreeing with a bunch of wealthy white men that a bunch of wealthy black men should just shut up and play and appreciate everything we've done for them. That everything white people say that the flag, and the anthem, stand for is exactly what it stands for, for everyone. And you know what? The flag and the anthem SHOULD stand for hard-won life, and liberty, and equality, for everyone. The national anthem SHOULD stand for the freedoms that make this country great, for everyone. But if you are black, or Latino, or gay, or - hey! - a woman! - you have a different perspective on liberty and equality and freedom.
I cannot speak, obviously, to being black in a white world. But I have eyes to see, and a brain to attempt to understand, and most importantly I have empathy . And I can speak, however, to funny little realities like what makes a man a good manager somehow makes me a bitch. Funny little realities like it's OK for men to talk over me, about me, and for me - while I am standing there. Funny realities like being told showing some leg and some cleavage is "asking for it" - while a man can parade naked down the street and the only thing he is "asking for" is some jail time and a fine. Funny realities like my access to healthcare and my choices about it should be dictated by a bunch of men raised in the last ice age.
Freedom and equality doesn't mean the same thing to me that it might to you. And I can say so. However I want. That's the beauty of it.
Colin Kaepernick's protest was - and still is - about police brutality and racial violence. Athletes - black and white and Latino and military and gay - are kneeling during the anthem because it provides a very visible, controversial, national platform to call attention to the fact that a poorly-composed song and a flag are symbols that to many Americans do not represent freedom and equality enjoyed by all. And here's a true fact! If they chose any of the more subtle forms of protest that all the outraged white folks are suggesting - "give some of your millions to charity!" "you should try helping veterans, then you'll get it!" "spend some of your precious time teaching inner-city kids respect!" (that last one is my favorite - because it's all about black kids not respecting white authority, right?) - none of us would ever listen.
Because we haven't listened. For centuries.
And we still aren't listening. We are making the conversation about something else entirely, no matter how often or how well the protesters and their supporters explain their views.
Do You Hear What I Hear? Maybe Not.
Wanna know what else I was hearing, all the time, this weekend? That those "overpaid" athletes have nothing to complain about. That their salaries have a direct connection to the amount of perceived respect they should pay to the flag, the military, the country, the president, you name it. How dare they protest social or racial injustice when they have a multi-million dollar contract? They should be grateful to even have the opportunity to make that money.
I was hearing - why would a wealthy professional athlete even concern himself with racial profiling and police brutality, let alone attempt to bring it to national attention, on national television? And on Sunday no less – you know, God’s day and also football. Can’t they do it some other time? Or maybe not at all. Everyone knows being wealthy means you have never been oppressed, or maybe you were, but certainly not now, now that you have money. Because everyone knows the cops check your bank statements before they pull you over, or ticket you, or throw you in jail, or shoot you. Right?
You know what I really hear in these comments? I hear the word "uppity." I hear "we aren't paying you to have an opinion." I hear, “you don’t know your place.” I hear, “shut up and play”
And speaking of shutting up…
That white man in the White House...
And it has been just another weekend of the white man in the White House using his position to amplify his divisive rhetoric, but once those black folks take advantage of a national platform to make a statement, hoo boy...
I can't be the only one who thinks it makes a very big statement that the white man in the White House spent the weekend obsessing over whether a bunch of wealthy black men were showing adequate respect for values he has spent considerable time misunderstanding and actively attempting to erode, and encouraging white bosses to fire them. And ignoring our Puerto Rican citizens - Latinos - during the greatest destruction they have ever known, other than to apparently blame them and their economy for the situation and worry about the billions owed to Wall Street.
Now you tell me who needs to shut up.