So you are angry that athletes are bending the knee during the national anthem. Well so am I. I am furious. The question is what are we more upset about, the disrespect to the flag or the fact that many people of color in the US feel systematically discriminated? You should be angry at both, but the latter should make you more upset. Why would someone who loves their country so much take such drastic measures that might, in the long run, endanger his/her career? What has forced them to this public outcry that might it be worth discussing?
If there is systematic discrimination and if an entire group of people in our community is suffering at the hand of people who act in the name of the flag, how are they supposed to respond? What would you propose? Anger in the past has led to riots on the streets, such as in L.A. Cincinnati or Miami. Those did not turn out that well nor did they bring change. Chaining yourself to the White House fence, in a post-9/11 America, might not be the best way to raise awareness. Comedy at Oscars and other events has not worked. Marching in Washington was cute, but politicians were too busy trying to repeal Obamacare to be interested. Nothing has worked. It seems that the only type of approach that works is sustained, concerted civil disobedience that is a constant reminder that our fellow Americans are suffering.
The truth is that I do not know what it is like to have someone make a snap judgment about my character based on the color of my skin. As a white man with a good job, wearing designer business attire, I usually go through life with few problems. In fact, in many situations, I receive benefits to which I am not entitled merely because of the way I look. The problem with privilege is that when we have it, we do not see or feel it. It’s just there, and we do not feel bad about having it. It feels great not to be profiled, harassed, or beaten. It feels even better that when I meet people, eyes light up and doors open. How could I possibly understand what it is like to be turned away, not believed, be suspected of a crime, or worse have a gun put pointed at me just because my skin color triggered a subconscious knee-jerk reaction.
While I feel very privileged, racism is everywhere, and even I cannot escape it. I couple of years go my then 4-year-old, mixed race, foster son came home from pre-school and asked me if he was white or black. My initial reaction was that he had discovered his own skin color and that this was a healthy development. In fact, it was just the opposite. He was worried because another kid at school had told him he was black and that white was better than black. I responded with, “you are neither white nor black; you are your own color.”
I then proceeded to ask everyone at the table to put their arms on the table, and we compared skin colors. To my relief, we could not find two identical skin colors at the table. Like this snapshot, people of color face similar moments many times, and I suspect possibly every day of their lives. I know that not one day has not gone by since that night that I do not worry about the next moment in his life where he will be made to feel less than what he is.
Unfortunately, prejudice and discrimination are instilled at a very early age. It permeates our society in many unseen ways, and it affects everyone in different ways. The bending of the knee is not an affront to America, and it is not a personal attack on all white people. It is a stark reminder that we are not doing enough to root out the causes of racism and that our leaders need to do more to ensure that institutional racism finds no place to breed future generations of racists. Before you criticize those bending the knee, ask yourself why are you outraged and what have you done to prevent racism around you. If you are like me, probably not very much. What we can do is listen, deeply and empathetically. We can raise awareness, and we can call on our leaders to investigate unconscious biases, discrimination and yes police brutality. Don`t do it for those bending the knee, but for everyone who respects the police and would like to root out abuse. I bet that those who are bending the knee will stop as soon as they feel heard. You have the power to make a difference; so be angry…very angry just be angry for the right reasons.