Real Change Starts with the Right Words. You Know The Ones.
Colin Kaepernick was right. All along.
He still may never play another down in the NFL but he was right.
There is nothing bad and everything good about taking a knee as it regards police violence directed at African-American men in the United States of America.
It is honoring the flag, not ignoring it. It is drawing attention to a problem that we, in particular, have in this country.
Kaepernick was also right in understanding that sports oftentimes leads some of the most important discussions we have about important subjects, race perhaps most of all because so many of the best professional athletes are African-American. Those who want to say "stick to sports" don't understand its place and its space as an agent of change at all.
Kaepernick was right because we have to get to where it starts, and it starts by acknowledging that hashtag. Those three words.
You know the words.
Don’t let the rioting confuse you, or the protests they use as cover. Don’t let this group or that cause confuse you. Don’t let a president who would have used Juneteenth for a rally in a city that just marked the 99-year anniversary of one of the worst acts of genocide in American history confuse you. Don’t even let the political movement those three words inspired confuse you.
You know the words.
It seems antithetical to start with that phrase. Surely, you start with all lives matter, right?
Yes, of course, all lives matter. But look at who you see and hear repeating that. People who look a lot like me. Usually on Facebook.
Facebook...psh. If Wonderland distracted Alice with its rabbit holes, Facebook requires a 500-milligram dose of Adderall before diving in.
Just to synopsize some of the posts I’ve seen on mine: “What about ALL lives?! What about BLUE lives? What about police killing more white men than black men? What about black-on-black crime? What about, what about?!"
What about incarceration rates that affect African-Americans more than any other racial group, and four-and-a-half times that of whites?
What about a race of people who feel the need to have "The Talk", especially with their teenage sons, about how to deal with the greater likelihood that they’ll be pulled over by law enforcement because racial profiling isn’t just a practice, it’s reflex?
What about the fact that the folks giving you all those what-abouts do so from a place of privilege we don't even realize we have?
What about the fact that when we say "what about" we are saying that we're not listening?! That we don't hear what black voices are saying, at all? Because, let’s be honest, what-about means acknowledge me first, start with me, with mine...
...and it's exactly the reason why we can't start there!
Do you think that makes me some sort of apologist? That I'm racked by "White Guilt"?
Or is it simply a realization?
Realization. I like that word. It takes from the noun "reality" and gives direction and purpose.
That's what this last couple of weeks has been, frankly. I remember talking about Colin Kaepernick's protests with my co-workers here three years ago and agreeing in principle with what he was saying but disagreeing with the practice.
Surely, a flag that represents us all is a flag worth standing for, right?
But honoring the flag is acknowledged in Kaepernick's kneeling before it, a gesture suggested by his former 49ers teammate and ex-Green Beret Nate Boyer, who stood beside Kaepernick kneeling before a game as the crowd rained down boos and said, quote, “Maybe that was my little taste of what it is like to be black. It helped me understand."
If Kaepernick didn't want to honor the flag, why bother asking Boyer what he should do?
If Tommie Smith and John Carlos didn't want to acknowledge this nation, why be on the podium at all at the '68 Olympics?
If Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wanted to burn this country down, why bother protesting?
Do we want to come together? To get at the root of the issue, to begin to heal the wound that has been reopened over and over in this nation since before we were a nation and finally let it become a scar?
Do we want to address our inequality and injustices, the ones that have affected us all, black, brown and white? Do we really want to listen and not just say we're listening?
Then you...I...we...have to start there. With the phrase that goes there. Up in your face. Under your skin.
The words that essayist Jonathan Last thinks America is finally emphasizing the right way, as in: not the first word but the last.
You know those words.
Black Lives Matter.