My late father was a huge football fan. He was also openly racist — something I wish he had lived long enough for me to confront him about, steadily challenge and change in him.
He was not a stupid man or a garden variety asshole, but a stubborn and macho one. His racism was lazy and flimsy enough that I think he could have been converted. But as I said, he loved football and the Take The Knee protest would have gotten his attention, and gotten him to think. Dad was not an unfair man, and as a Jew, he understood historic persecution and irrational hatred. I think it would have jolted him to consider that the guys he loved watching play his favorite game were not just gladiators being paid to entertain him but human beings with justified anger and concern about social injustice suffered by their people. It would have opened conversation with him, I think, in a way that no other Black Lives Matter action has done.
This is how social change movements MUST work: coordinated and engaged across diverse areas and places in a sick society so that they can meet and confront people where they are. How brilliant and brave and effective for Colin Kaepernick to interrupt the mindless entertainment of football with a statement about reality beyond the stadium.
Please engage with the enraged and tell them what this is about. Tell them to stop repeating the stupid mantra “Stick to sports.” Tell them to LEARN. Tell them that the whole point of protest is to make people like them uncomfortable. Tell them that this is not about protesting Trump, and that it began during the Obama Administration. Tell them to read Ta-Nahesi Coates Between the World And Me or Wesley Lowery’s They Can’t Kill Us All, or Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow or to to read Race Matters by Cornel West or Waking Up White by Debby Irving. Tell them to read Peggy McIntosh’s seminal essay, “Unpacking The Privilege Knapsack.” Tell them to see the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” and to read James Baldwin. Tell them that black lives are more important than white feelings and to stop centering their own defensiveness in conversations about systemic racism in America.
Tell them that white privilege is separate from economic privilege and to stop insisting that they don’t have privilege because they grew up poor or disadvantaged or Irish or Jewish. Tell them that comparing Irish indentured servitude and prejudice against other groups of immigrants in the U.S. to the unique horror of the African slave trade is a diversion that needs to stop. Only Native American peoples have an equal status as survivors of white genocide on this soil. Tell them to stop intellectualizing and sparring and opining when there are dead bodies in the streets and packed into our prisons. Keep at it. And while you’re at it, tell them that even my bigot of a father knew that what he and his brothers fought for in World War II and the Korean War was EXACTLY what those who Take The Knee are doing now, and not for a flag and an anthem.