I originally wrote this back in 2017, after Kaepernick’s protest and the Unite the Right rally, though did not publish it. In light of the ongoing protests and a reinvigorated movement, I felt compelled to return to these stories and to share them.
To those opposed to the ongoing protest in professional sports, I would like to pose a set of honest questions:
Kaepernick started his protest after a number of unarmed black men were killed by police in what would appropriately be described as extra-judicial killings, and the police were subsequently let off without any charge. Per Kaepernick’s initial statement: “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” That is the point of his initial protest from the beginning. He’s not protesting the country, and not trying to be offensive to others, but trying to bring light to an issue that is important to our society — racial injustice and police brutality.
So, for those who feel that this is disrespectful to the military, let us remember that those members of the military that you fear are being disrespected fought and died so that people would continue to have freedom of speech and the freedom to protest. Therefore, we should be proud of such a non-violent exercise of those First Amendment Rights. I personally know multiple members of the military who have served multiple deployments who are proud to see this protest and are angered by the backlash, noting the fundamental contradiction of people opposing the exercise of the rights that they fought to defend.
In that same vein, I find it interesting that when white people protested in the name of white supremacy and literally called for death to Jews and blacks, many were more than willing to defend the First Amendment rights of those protestors, or even call say that there are “very fine people” on both sides. Yet when a black man protests silently, and does not call for the killing of anyone else, let alone entire communities, there is no discussion of his First Amendment rights, but plenty of anger about the “manner in which he is protesting.” Why is that? I’m honestly curious, so if you have a valid argument, let me know, because I really am at a loss.
If this manner of protest is not acceptable, what manner of protest is acceptable for a young black man to wage? Honestly. How about standing during the anthem, but with raised fists? What about while on the podium, given that might be another time when people are paying attention? Oh wait, we already ostracized John Carlos and Tommie Smith for doing so. How about wearing a T-shirt during warm ups? Oh wait, NBA players already tried that and were criticized. How about speaking out during award speeches, or really any other time that someone has a platform and audience? Yep, we’ve criticized people for doing that to and “being too political” or “polarizing” and that such was not an appropriate forum. So, I really want to know what you would find an appropriate or valid way to launch such a protest. Does such a forum exist to you?
Here’s the thing: social progress comes at a cost, and will not necessarily be convenient. Any time someone challenges a status quo — in this case, injustice, such will also challenge those who benefit the most from said status quo. This is where the term “white privilege” comes from — while black people face injustice in our society purely due to the color of their skin, white people do not have to face the same stigma and injustice, do not have to face the same fear of confrontations with the police, and do not have to have “the conversation” with their children once they are able to leave the house alone. So you and I have the “privilege” of being treated by society, generally, as we would hope others would treat us. Unfortunately, some in society do not have that same privilege, and the entire point of all of this is to seek equality, not for some form of “special treatment.”
Now, saying that you have this privilege isn’t a criticism. It’s also not something that you earned, and it’s not a flaw. It’s not saying that your life has been easy. It’s saying that your life has not specifically been made harder because of the color of your skin. It’s something to be acknowledged, so as to confront the reasons that such privilege exists in the first place. To be clear, there is no inherent universal privilege in being white given that people who are white are not superior to people with any other skin color. However, in the social construct of our current system, we do have privilege as white people and we have for hundreds of years, since before the founding of this country.
Here’s the thing about equality and injustice: when injustice exists as the status quo, and that status quo is challenged, that can feel offensive to those who benefit from the status quo. When viewed as a zero sum game, fighting for equality might feel like oppression. However, equal rights for others do not mean less rights for you or me. We aren’t slicing a pie. Human rights are not a zero sum game, though many people seem to feel that way. As a gut reaction, we might say “that’s not fair TO ME.” For example, in the form of saying “yea, I understand that you have a point, but you just can’t protest THAT way.” Saying as much is to try to silence their protest, and thereby defend the currently racist and unjust status quo.
Here’s the thing though: just because you don’t like hearing about white privilege or don’t believe in white privilege does not mean that white privilege does not exists. White privilege does exist, regardless of what you think. That’s the stubborn reality of facts, they don’t care about your opinions. So if you don’t like hearing that you have privilege as a white person, instead of being angry at those who fighting for justice, how about striving with us to create not just equality, but equity, so we can live in a world where white privilege no longer exists. But how can we do so? How can we make that progress when a young black man cannot even protest silently, in a way that literally harms no one else? Because eventually, if you continue to fight against a silent, peaceful protest, expect to face protests that may be much less silent and much less peaceful.
After saying all this, maybe you do feel that you understand Kaepernick’s point. Fantastic. But if you feel that you truly understand his point, yet still feel that your hurt feelings about a misperceived slight of not showing enough respect to the flag are more important than the point he is trying to make, I would argue that you don’t actually understand his point, nor do you truly understand the weight of racial injustice in our society. Either that, or you just don’t care. Those are the only two options, so choose carefully.