One of the most striking things about the images of Black Lives Matter protests is the number of white people in the crowds. In every city in the country and all over the world, white people are marching and protesting alongside Black people: they’re holding Black Lives Matter signs, wearing I Can’t Breathe t-shirts, covering their faces with Stop Killing Black People masks. And they’re out there with the same passion and urgency as the Black community.
I think it’s this unique quality, even more than the intensity and the continuing duration of the protests, that seems to give this moment a different feeling than recent BLM protests or previous cries for racial justice in America. I’m not the only one who’s noticed that this time feels different. And I think that this unfamiliar thing we’re feeling is hope.
“You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in [this city]. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being. I am sure that each of you would want to go beyond the superficial social analyst who looks merely at effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. I would not hesitate to say that it is unfortunate that so-called demonstrations are taking place in [this city] at this time, but I would say in more emphatic terms that it is even more unfortunate that the white power structure of this city left the Black community with no other alternative.”
The NFL has issued a statement saying it was wrong to censure players who protested police violence. “We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.”
Well, better late than never, I suppose. And I suppose the protests are having at least some small part of their desired effect if they are causing individuals and organizations to re-think their actions, their words, and their beliefs. It wasn’t a spontaneous awakening. The NFL’s statement came as a response to a video made by NFL players about racial inequity and asking the NFL to publicly make the statement that they were wrong, and that Black lives matter. But racial inequity is deeply ingrained in our national zeitgeist and it isn’t going to disappear overnight. So any steps in the direction of awareness and growth, even small ones, should be welcomed for what they are. For now, I’m going to set aside the sarcasm and the skepticism and just say: “Good on you, NFL.” For now.
Several years ago, when Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the playing of the national anthem at the start of NFL games, he did so in protest against the mass incarceration of and the police brutality against African-Americans. Some other (mostly, but not exclusively, African-American) players began to kneel too. And America lost its collective mind. They called these peaceful protests “treason” and said that they “disrespected our flag and our troops.” Colin Kaepernick’s football career was over. Donald Trump called for protesters to be fired (for exercising their First Amendment rights). Vice President Mike Pence walked out of a game when players knelt. Conservatives called for a boycott of the games. And the NFL threatened to fine players who knelt and said that they could only do so in the locker rooms, but not on the field.
I don’t condone the violence or the rioting. It’s wrong and it’s terrible and it’s gut-wrenching to watch my country descend into chaos.
I simply made an ill-advised attempt to re-direct certain people’s attention away from the rioting and back to the source of the protests. (Don’t ask me why I did it. I’d made myself a promise only yesterday that I would NOT engage on this issue. Oh, who was I kidding, of course I’m going to engage.)
I tried to remind someone that there is undeniable, systemic racism in our country and that’s what we should be focused on. “Let’s not let ourselves get sidetracked here,” I said. “The continued, systematic denial of human rights is the real problem. Let’s direct our outrage there.”
Your concern is quite touching. Truly. Your words of concern for all those small business owners whose shops are being looted and businesses being burned to the ground in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other cities all across the US during the riots sparked by the killing of George Floyd touch my heart. These people are just trying to make a living. They haven’t done anything wrong. These thugs must be brought to justice!
I know you’re not a racist. I know, because you said so. And I know that you’re moved by the plight of the oppressed and by the tragedy of Floyd’s death, (although he might have — no, probably did — deserve the treatment at the hands of the police officer — it’s impossible to tell from the video footage what came before — and after all if he could say “I can’t breathe,” then obviously he could breathe), but when the looting starts . . . well then that’s surely when things have gone too far. That’s real evil.