Spending time with our favorite people and enjoying communal events can be a lot of fun, and it’s important to keep our spirits up—particularly during these tumultuous times. If you’re headed to a Super Bowl party on Sunday, I hope you have a really great time with some of your favorites! Good company and great food aside, though—in 2018 your Super Bowl experience will almost definitely include someone having something to say about the players who kneel during the national anthem, and I want to encourage everyone—especially my fellow white folks—to be prepared to make the most of the opportunity that these comments will present. Obviously I’m not suggesting that anyone show up to family events simply looking for a fight or being needlessly argumentative, but there is absolutely a need for well-informed rebuttal of close-minded reactions whenever they occur.
For me as a white woman, I believe that disseminating good information throughout my community and refuting misinformation whenever I come across it are two of the most important responsibilities that I have as an active advocate for equality.
Living in a majority-white county in a state that is still significantly segregated means that the majority of my social circle is white, and that it’s all too easy for us to live our lives largely unaware of the issues that most directly impact people of color. This isolation doesn’t just create the perfect breeding ground for overt racism, but also a pervasive level of ignorance and inaction that can be equally dangerous. If your upbringing was anything like mine, you were taught that it’s not polite to discuss politics in social situations because people might strongly disagree and get upset. So if we see the heads around us shaking as people of color take a knee on TV, our default response is much more likely to be quiet disappointment in those around us rather than speaking up in support of racial justice. This has to change.
These keep-the-“peace” moments where we look the other way or shrink from debate are the dark corners in which complacency, indifference (or worse) really flourishes, and we need to be actively working to break them down at all times.
Learning to live within the discomfort of speaking up amongst our own social circles is probably the most effective kind of work that we as white people can do, because someone who already knows and loves you but doesn’t really know any people of color is going to be much more receptive to what you have to teach them than what any stranger does. We need to love and respect the people we surround ourselves with enough to bother calling out their problematic behavior if/when it occurs, because that’s the only way that growth becomes possible. That being said, it’s also crucial that we don’t wait for people of color to tell us what we should say or do to fix a system that they are still actively oppressed by and that we still actively benefit from. Figuring out what needs to be said or done in order to dismantle this is our work to do—every day, all the time, including Super Bowl Sunday.
I get it if you just want to enjoy the game without an argument, and no—that impulse alone doesn’t make you a bad person or racist—but the people most directly impacted by systemic racism don’t get any days off, and until we care far more about that than we do about the sanctity of our own leisure time, that will never change.
So, in the hope that it helps you to prepare for some constructive conversations tomorrow, here are a few of my go-to responses for some of the game-day criticisms I’ve been hearing in recent months…
They should leave their politics out of it and just be athletes. Why should anyone care what a bunch of overpaid celebrities think about anything anyway?
There are real human beings impacted by politics all day, every day so everything is already political. It always has been, it’s just that it’s easier for some of us to ignore that than it is for others, and the events of this past year in particular have forced us all to be more aware of it than ever. It’s uncomfortable and exhausting, for sure—but we can’t fix what we don’t see, so as unpleasant as it might be to face some of these hard truths, I’m grateful to anyone who uses their fame to call attention to important issues rather than just selling sports drinks and designer clothes.
Disrespecting the flag and our troops isn’t going to end racism. What they’re doing isn’t even accomplishing anything.
Colin Kaepernick said he chose to stop standing for the national anthem because “[He was] not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people, and people of color,” and he decided to kneel rather than sit after consulting with a former Green Beret specifically because he wanted to find the best way to call attention to systemic racism without showing disrespect to those who serve in our military.
Calling for racial justice does not mean that you’re against the police, our troops, and certainly not our country. Having respect for black lives and having respect for America are not mutually exclusive.
I think of it like parenting—people push their kids to grow and evolve into their best selves not because they’re against them or believe they’re all wrong the way they currently are, but because they love them and believe in their potential enough to push them to do better. These players’ demonstrations have already proven to be effective overall, too. I know I definitely never used to discuss racial justice as much surrounding sporting events, and I’ve learned a lot from doing so. Colin has also just finished raising one million dollars for social justice organizations—including at least one that supports veterans—and I have no doubt that money will do a lot of very real good in the world. Whether you agree with the specific style of his demonstration or not—he’s gotten a lot of conversations started that we as a society really need to be having, and he’s literally put his money where his mouth is.
What is it that you’ve supposedly learned about racism from them kneeling?
From literally seeing the kneeling itself? Nothing, obviously. But the attention they’ve called to these issues by doing so has gotten people talking about how to work towards improvements, and I’ve learned a lot from the conversations that these demonstrations have provoked. There’s a lot that even the people closest to me thought about these issues that I never realized, because we just never used to talk about this kind of thing. I’m grateful that through some of these conversations I’ve been able to share more information with them regarding the realities of police brutality and systemic racism, and hopefully helped to broaden their perspective on the issue by clearing up some misinformation. For example, a lot of the people I’ve talked to about this didn’t know that while African-American and Hispanic people make up about 32% of our population, they represent 56% of all incarcerated people in the U.S.—a country that consists of 5% of the world’s total population, yet holds 21% of the world’s prisoners. Or that—while far more extensive collection of arrest data is definitely needed at all levels—multiple studies in various places throughout the country have already shed light on how people of color are more likely than white people to be stopped, searched, and to experience various types of violence and other civil rights violations while engaging with police officers.
In the DOJ’s Ferguson, Missouri investigations for instance, researchers found that African Americans were more than twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during vehicle stops even after controlling for non-race based variables such as the reason the vehicle stop was initiated, but were found in possession of contraband 26% less often than white drivers.
Of course not every town is Ferguson (or New York, or San Francisco, or St. Anthony…) and not every officer should be presumed guilty of these transgressions, but all of us—including those who serve as police officers and those who love them—will be better off in a society where we’re all willing to see, acknowledge, and reflect on even the harshest realities so that we can continually ask ourselves what we can do better, and work together towards those goals.
For anyone interested in continuing the conversation beyond gameday, watching Ava Duvernay’s documentary The 13th is a great next step in becoming more informed regarding systemic racism in the U.S.
Are there any other points you’ve found helpful during conversations like these? Do you have any ideas on how to facilitate racial justice within our communities? If so, please add to the discussion in the comments below so we can learn from one another! I’d love to hear what you think.
President of Sussex County NOW