I’m late to getting at this and you may be over it already, but I think it’s still worth some discussion. As I’ve engaged on social media about the NFL players protests – not protesting the flag or the anthem, by the way, no matter what people are saying – I’m noticing a couple of things.
- There’s a difference in perspective as to whether or not the protest is offensive. In my eyes, players kneeling with their hands over their hearts during the anthem is about as respectful a protest as one could get. They are doing nothing to disrupt the anthem. They are making a quiet stand. However, it’s clear that many find this offensive.
- I believe there’s a difference in perspective as to whether or not the protest is necessary. Some folks seem to believe that the Civil Rights Movement fixed our racial problems and that any problems we might have left are no longer about racism. I can’t feel more strongly in disagreement with that.
Reflecting on those two differences in perspective between folks on opposite sides of this issue has me noticing two more things.
- It is very difficult to see past our own lived experiences. That’s a normal human issue. We extrapolate from our experiences to the wider world. (Heck, we teach kids to do this, to connect their life and experiences to others and books and events.) However, if we can’t take the perspective of another and genuinely try to see how their life and experiences might differ from our own, we will never be able to understand others. I’ve heard from several folks that they worked hard to get where they are and everyone needs to just do that. Or that they served in the military and others need to respect that. There is a clear expectation that others understand and respect their lived experiences without doing the same for others.
- This is the big one. We, as white people, are not willing to look at, to analyze, to even admit to our own racism. We can pretend this problem doesn’t exist and no protests are needed if we pretend we aren’t racist. (Much less if we pretend the entire system isn’t racist.) I hate to say it, but I know I am racist. It is something I have to actively fight against regularly. I have to step back and notice how I respond to a Black man walking down the street, how I assume a person’s whiteness when I hear them on the radio as an expert. I need to notice these reactions in order to make them less likely to happen in the future, in order to be less racist.
Avenue Q is a fun musical that it can be hard to take seriously. But the song, Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist, has always made me laugh and feel pained. If you don’t know it, take a few minutes and listen and recognize that we are all racist. Pretending it isn’t true isn’t helping anyone.
My favorite, also funny and painful, take on this comes from The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah. He takes just a minute to explore how best Black people should be protesting and ends up, as I have ended up in every conversation I’ve had about this, coming to this realization:
If you’re struggling with this issue (although, chances are if you’re reading this you aren’t struggling at all) I highly recommend taking five minutes to watch this video of Nick Wright talking about the protests. Normally I won’t watch videos more than about two minutes but I did watch this one and I’ve now watched it a number of times. Wright hits on so many of the problems I have with people’s distaste for these protests. He also takes some time to explain the history, about how Colin Kaepernick was originally sitting during the anthem until a Navy SEAL reached out to him and suggested that he kneel as that’s more respectful. Kaepernick listened, found meaning in what the man said, and began kneeling instead. If only we could all listen so respectfully and meaningfully.