I spend a lot of time on #BlackTwitter, #FeministTwitter, #LGBTQIA, #MuslimTwitter, and #SocialistTwitter learning from voices who are marginalized by the American Experiment (I spend a fair amount of time learning on #NativeTwitter as well, but I’d like to think I also offer some education in that area). This advice on how white men can support women stuck with me: don’t go into feminist spaces and talk over people; instead, make the spaces you’re privileged enough to access into feminist spaces.
That is a sound axiom.
I see these athletes kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner (penned by slave-owning lawyer Francis Scott Key in 1814 and ordered in 1916 by white supremacist Woodrow Wilson to be played at all military ceremonies and which began being played during Major League Baseball games while players marched in military formation after America entered World War I in 1918 and which was signed into law as the National Anthem by financial failure Herbert Hoover in 1931 after 5 million people signed a petition started by the VFW and which has led to an odd coupling between the Department of Defense and professional sports – and between fandom and patriotism -ever since [end of long aside thanks for taking the journey]) following this axiom. They aren’t “whining,” they aren’t “ungrateful” or “un-American,” they are taking the space to which they’re privileged enough to have access and trying to make it – in the parlance of our times – woke.
Have you seen the videos of white folks burning their NFL gear, jerseys, and season tickets? They talk about loving their country, about disrespect for the flag, veterans, and the president. They choke back tears. They shake with rage. They vow never to watch another game. Sometimes, they don’t speak; they simply play the Star Spangled Banner and flip the middle finger while fabric burns.
Some folks who want to Burn the NFL say it’s not about race, and I believe them. Despite the few who spit “this is what Black Lives Matter gets you” into the camera, or Missouri bar owner Jason Burle who decided to turn side-by-side Marshawn Lynch and Colin Kaepernick jerseys into doormats (“Lynch” “Kaepernick,” get it? White people are very humorous), I believe them when they say it’s not about race.
For them, it’s about ruining something they love. Football is the language they speak, the shorthand used by friends and families to bond. They might not be able to talk about anything, but they can always talk about sports. Sport is also helpful to fill dead air between strangers (hell, talking sports even crosses color lines). It’s their solace from day-to-day stress, their escape mechanism from the endless noise coming from other areas of their lives telling them that America is Not Okay. For a few hours, they can crack open a beer, cheer for their team, and forget about America’s supposed problems.
Surprise, sports fans – America has problems. More specifically, America has a race problem. You might not see this specific set of racial problems from your point of view, which is why football players are trying to wake you up.
People who don’t fit the idealized “American” mold face real injustices in this country. Bravo to the athletes risking their jobs and their fan’s respect to bring the problems of people without millions of cameras pointed at them into the spotlight. Burn the NFL folks? Shame on you for trying to change the narrative. Shame on you for seeing a protest against systemic racism and hearing “I hate veterans.” Shame on you for turning your backs on this country’s bleeding wounds.
I have a piece of advice for the folks burning their NFL jerseys – don’t retreat. Don’t wrap yourself in the comfort of people telling you how this protest has wronged you, get uncomfortable. Go, with an open heart, into the spaces where people who support this protest speak and do something we’ve lost touch with: listen.
Keep your mouth closed and your heart open until you understand.