I wasn’t sure I was going to write about this topic, especially so early on in my blog. Part of my reasoning is that it was an older-ish news story and, even though this “scandal” was one of the reasons I decided to start this site, I wanted to try and stay more current. Luckily, I suppose, our president took care of that for me over the long weekend, though:
Another reason is that I don’t know how accurately I can write about this because I don’t personally know what it’s like to be black in the United States. I can’t truly understand what it is to experience racism like they have. I don’t want to come off as obnoxious, disingenuous, or self-righteous trying to explain my understanding of it when you, reading this, don’t know me or my sense of humor very well yet.
My last reason is that I strongly believe that, while average citizens might truly be angry, the outrage coming from the president and the conservative media pundits is inauthentic. They aren’t truly angry, but they know they can rile up their audience if they pretend they are. It’s largely meant to be a distraction for us in two ways. The first is keeping our minds off of other, more important things, like the CBO’s analysis of the tax bill, for example. The second is to avoid discussing the real issue that these guys are kneeling because of, which is a lot harder than berating them for disrespecting troops and the country that gives them millions of dollars to entertain it. But I find myself wanting to write about that real issue.
I think the crux of this is the definition of patriotism. What is patriotism? The founding fathers were British citizens. Was it patriotic of them to rise up against the monarchy and stand for the principle of self-governance? I’d say so. Patriotism is love for the country you call home. The founders loved a country that didn’t exist, but the idea for which was already brewing in their heads. I am patriotic. I love the United States, and I want to see it succeed. There’s a quote from a book that I’ve read by Al Franken that hits the point home.
If you listen to a lot of conservatives, they’ll tell you that the difference between them and us is that conservatives love America and liberals hate America. They don’t get it. We love America just as much as they do, but in a different way. You see, they love America like a 4-year-old loves his mommy. Liberals love America like grown-ups.
To a 4-year-old, everything Mommy does is wonderful and anyone who criticizes Mommy is bad. Grown-up love means actually understanding what you love, taking the good with the bad and helping your loved one grow. Love takes attention and work and is the best thing in the world. That’s why we liberals want America to do the right thing. We know America is the hope of the world, and we love it and want it to do well.
–Al Franken : Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them
That’s a little flippant, sure, but it touches on the truth, and with that in mind, I’m about to say something potentially controversial:
America is not perfect.
We make mistakes. Other countries do some things better than we do, and we can learn from them. A lot of those countries learned from us, using our groundbreaking constitution as the basis for their own, but improving on it in places they recognized we had made those mistakes. There’s no reason we can’t learn from them in return or learn from ourselves and put new laws, amendments, and policies in place to avoid making them again in the future. As a patriotic citizen, you have to fight to make your country what it ought to be and never settle for what it is. You have a responsibility to stand up against injustice, especially when it’s coming from the institutions put in place to protect and provide for our society. Turning a blind eye to that injustice and pretending your country can do no wrong is not patriotism; it’s ignorant nationalism or, maybe more accurately, mindless chauvinism.
The age of smart phones and body cameras has given us evidence of an insidious truth. Racism still exists and it’s embedded in our criminal justice system. Racist police officers still exist today. They’ve almost certainly always been there, but now we have tools on us all the time that let us document it and expose it. The large, large majority of officers are good people, putting their life on the line in an often thankless line of work. When was the last time you thanked a cop for pulling you over when you broke the law? But a non-zero number of them are racist and let that racism affect their work.
Some police officers are conscious of it and actively use their power to oppress. We have multiple instances of this with officers caught planting evidence to make an arrest or murdering an unarmed man who wasn’t an immediate danger to anyone. Each of the examples above and others crossing your mind right now may have been actual criminals that deserved prison, but none of them deserved unlawful treatment, or unfair trials. Walter Scott deserved to be charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer, but he didn’t deserve to be summarily executed because he was afraid of being arrested for unpaid child support, and the police officer who shot him would’ve almost certainly gotten away with his murder if not for a citizen with a cell phone camera being nearby. Race may not have played a role in every instance of this sort of thing, but it does in a lot of them. The most well known example is likely Mark Fuhrman, the officer who’s racism played a part in the OJ Simpson trial, and is usually cited as one of the primary reasons Simpson was acquitted.
Others don’t know it’s there, but have it subconsciously affect the way they act. I can admit that I have an unconscious racial bias. I’m (obviously) not proud of it, but I have a flash of fear when I’m walking down the street and find myself approaching a stranger that happens to be a large black man. A flash that I don’t feel when it’s a large white man. I recognize that it’s there, and I can tell myself I’m being silly now, but the rural communities I was raised in taught me, perhaps unknowingly, that different is scary. Different wants to harm me. That’s what institutional racism leads to, and it’s my opinion that unconscious racial bias is what led to Philando Castile’s death. He informed the officer he had a lawfully owned weapon in the car, like he is supposed to do, as he reached for his registration, and the police officer, fearing Philando was reaching for the weapon, shot him several times while Philando screamed that he wasn’t going for the gun. This sort of bias is fixed with training. Training that teaches officers to recognize when it’s affecting them and learn appropriate ways to address it. We can’t pretend it doesn’t exist and hope it will go away on its own. Our police force is one of the most decentralized in the world, with more than 12,000 separate police agencies, or 240 per state. Training for those officers comes from more than 600 separate police academies, with different curricula and levels of quality. It’s no surprise that our current training system is hit-or-miss. Our soldiers tend to be better trained in recognizing real threats and deescalation tactics, yet they are dealing with enemy combatants and the police are sworn to protect the citizens we’re talking about here. Education isn’t the entirety of the issue, though. Take a look at this ex-soldier that relied on his training from Afghanistan and was fired for not shooting a man that was attempting suicide-by-cop and turned out to not even have bullets in his gun, something a witness had told the police dispatcher, but which wasn’t passed on to the officers on scene.
Those concepts are what these NFL players are kneeling in protest of. They’re not disrespecting the flag, the military, the country, or the office of the president, and even if they were, none of those things deserve our blind, unwavering support, respect, or allegiance. There are legitimate reasons to protest each and every one of them, and fight for change in them. The right for us to do so is one of the things the soldiers in our military fight for. Yes, these football players are millionaires – they don’t experience all of the hardships of the people they represent in the black community when they kneel, but they do still experience racism. They are also role models and are often seen as leaders in their communities. They donate their money and time to charities that help people less fortunate than they are. They are not just grandstanding for the PR or making a statement without action to back it up. They are attempting to draw attention to injustice in our society, and start a discussion about how we can fix it, and they’re doing it silently and respectfully with the best national platform they have.
As I mentioned, addressing the real issue at hand is difficult, especially for the conservative media. The first step in order to do so is admitting institutional racism exists. It means admitting that, intentionally or not, our society has historically responded to steps towards equality with measures, laws, and institutions designed to reverse those steps. We saw it in the Jim Crow laws, the entire idea of “separate, but equal”, and the segregation of schools and society after the Civil War. After 1964 and the Civil Rights Act, we saw it in new ways. It manifested in the war on drugs, with steeper penalties for drugs more commonly used by black people. It reared it’s head in a renewed need to remember the confederacy, 100 years gone at that point. States across the South, even a few that originally fought for the union, erected new confederate monuments as a thinly veiled intimidation tactic, to remind black people of where their society believed they belonged. More recently, it appears in the conservative push for voter ID laws that show pretty strong evidence of, again, intentionally or not, disproportionately affecting poor minorities and students, making it less likely they will vote, and thereby shifting elections towards the right.
It’s so much easier to say, “Look at these guys, disrespecting the flag and the soldiers that died for them while we throw millions of dollars their way. How ungrateful can they be? They should just play football on Sunday and leave politics out of it,” than it is to actually have a serious discussion on racism. And so the conservative media heads focus on that anger, stoking it, purposefully ignoring what is actually happening because that’s too uncomfortable for people to confront. It doesn’t fit the conservative narrative that racism is dead – that we defeated it for good the minute Obama was elected in ’08. Their viewers either willfully ignore, or stay blissfully ignorant of, the true discussion these guys are trying to have. Doing so ensures they don’t have to go through the discomfort of confronting society’s implicit racial bias, along with perhaps their own.
Colin Kaepernick and his peers kneeling beside him are the true patriots in this debate, and I would gladly kneel beside them. They make me proud to be an American.
So there we go. First topical post in the bag. I’m not positive what I’ll be writing on next, but it’ll likely be here in the next week or so if you’re interested in hearing more. Each new post will be sent out on my social media sites, so follow me on your platform of choice if you’d like a notification when one releases. I’m also definitely interested in feedback on my essay, so let me know your thoughts below or over on Facebook, even if all you want to do is critique my grammar.
Thanks for stopping by.