When Can Black People Protest?

Recently I got into a conversation with some people I am very close with about Colin Kaepernick.  First, let me say, during this conversation I was surrounded by a table of Trump supporters and I was the only “crazy left-wing radical liberal.”   Now, they weren’t the kind of Trumpers that would be found in a rally of white nationalists with tiki torches yelling for Jews to go home, but they were definitely still the kind who it can be incredibly challenging, and sometimes problematic, to have a conversation with.

I will begin with saying, I know NOTHING about football.  I couldn’t tell you how to score a touchdown (you just cross the little white line thingy, right?).  I couldn’t tell you what a running back does….besides run…..back?  And I couldn’t tell you who the best team is in 2017.  What I do know is that Colin Kaepernick has caused quite a stir and still continues to do so.

During this conversation, I encountered some of the following arguments:

  • Kaepernick is a black man who was born into a privileged white family who was well off so he doesn’t even know what it means to be a black man.
  • He was only protesting because he was a piss poor football player and wanted to set up a reason to be mad at the owners/team when they inevitably kicked him off.  He wanted to blame them for being racist as opposed to just owning up to the fact that he’s a bad player.
  • Football is an American past-time and is not a time for protests to be happening.
  • America is the freest country in the world so he has no right to complain about the life he has.

Let’s start with the first argument.  This first statement is INCREDIBLY racist.  To say that a black man who is affluent doesn’t know what it means to “be black” is essentially equating blackness with poverty.  The reality is, when a police officer pulls someone over who is black, they don’t know how much money they have in their bank account.  I’ll always recall stories like Senator Ronald Sullivan who talked about being pulled over 7 times in one year for very trivial reasons.  I don’t think I’ve even been pulled over 7 times in my life.  The times I did get pulled over it was always because I was speeding like crazy or something was wrong with my car.  Being a black person with money doesn’t erase the fact that black people are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police and are more incarcerated than any other ethnicity.

Second argument.  Now, when I brought up the fact that 12 players on Kaepernick’s old team recently took a knee during the national anthem, it was completely ignored.  I wish I would have gotten a response to that because I think it would have made for some interesting dialogue.  If Kaerpernick was protesting just because he was a “bad player,” what were the excuses of these 12 other players?  This part of the conversation mostly focused on his playing skills and how poor they are which led to his “whiny baby” attitude.  Again, I know absolutely nothing about football.  But, I wonder, if he was one of the greatest players of all time would his protest have been seen less intrusive or unpatriotic?  My guess is, probably not.  This argument suggests that someone has to have incredible talents in order to be heard, listened to and respected.  We talk about the right to free speech but under these circumstances you’re saying only certain people are allowed to practice it.  Whether someone is entirely “unskilled and uneducated” or the most smartest and talented person on earth, they absolutely have a right to speak up about the injustices they are experiencing.

Third argument: football is an american pastime and has no place for politics.  Let me first start off with a meme, because they have a secret magical way to sum up an argument.

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I have heard countless times where people were complaining about the way people of color and women protest.  It blocks traffic.  It cuts into our entertainment.  It costs money.  There are a slew of reasons.  What folks who use these arguments are not realizing they are actually saying is that YOU CANNOT BE BOTHERED.  You can’t be bothered with other people’s struggles.  You can’t be bothered with other people’s oppression.  You can’t be bothered to face something that doesn’t directly impact you.  By dictating when, where and how people can resist systems of power and oppression you are, believe it or not, contributing to the problem.  By telling a celebrity athlete that he can’t use his platform (which other people of color do not have access to) to take TEN SECONDS to bring awareness to a violent issue in our country because it is “so disrespectful” is another form of oppression and prejudice.  You are also leaving folks with very limited options of how to protest.  Kaepernick’s act of protest was short, silent, didn’t involve others (unless they voluntarily joined) and did not disrupt the game whatsoever.  Hell, you could simply turn your head briefly in the other direction and never engage with it at all.  If that is still too much radicalism for you, then please, do tell, what does proper protesting look like?

Lastly, yes, America is free.  Well, “freer” than most.  But we still have issues with people being mistreated based on the clothing they are wearing.  Mistreated based on skin color.  Gender.  Income.  Identity. Religion. Interests.  Passions.  We may not be stoned for our expressions but it is not impossible (or not guaranteed) that won’t happen.  If we can’t speak up during football games, then when?  Because it seems whether we’re having peaceful Black Lives Matter protests, are taking a knee, signing a petition, whatever, it is deemed un-American, because the good ol’ U.S. of A is so damn free.  Let me tell you, when I’m walking down the street (at any time of day, in any area, with any kind of clothing on) and I have men literally following me, whispering disgusting things in my ear while I’m panicking if I am going to be raped by this man or not, I don’t feel so fucking free.  So when people who aren’t feeling free, are feeling in danger, are feeling like their lives are at risk just by walking down the street, decide to speak up about it are suddenly deemed as “un-american,” what do they do? How do they protest?  How do they fight for their rights? Because, my experiences as of late I encounter a “well it’s worse in other countries so they should be grateful it’s not as bad” type mentality.  Is this true?  Am I missing something?  Overall, how do we fight for black, trans, femme, undocumented folks in this country when so many folks retort with “it could be worse so they should be grateful”?

The conversation ended with the “he’s un-American” argument, to which I responded “well I think it’s un-american to be pulled over just for being black,” that then led to the conversation ending with a simple “Ok, this conversation is now over because it isn’t going anywhere.”  And this ending to the conversation is what saddens me the most about Kaepernick’s and others protesting.  Protesting has been a long-standing tradition in our country, and around the world, to not only resist but to bring awareness to an issue.  It is meant to incite dialogue.  It is meant to educate others on what marginalized communities are experiencing.  It is meant to get others to stand in solidarity with those who are being oppressed.  But if we can’t even listen to each other, if we automatically shut people down because we disagree, then what is the point of protesting at all?  By ending a conversation because it is displeasing to you, you are continuing acts of oppression by saying someone’s plight is not deemed worthy of your time and attention and therefore doesn’t deserve aid or assistance.  All that I ask, no matter your political party, is listen to people with different opinions than you.  You don’t have to agree.  But, in order to stand in your convictions with your full presence, gather as much information as possible, not just the information that is most interesting to you.  Give people space to disagree with you.  Give people space to speak out, protest, resist.  Because, as much as I hate this argument, should there ever be a day you want to take a knee, I’m sure you would want people to focus and pay attention to your cause.  So let others protest, not just for themselves, but that so you also have the right to do so whenever you may feel like it.  That is the American way after all.

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