This post was contributed by a community member. The views expressed here are the author’s own.
It’s not enough anymore to do nothing
May 31, 2020 10:17 pm PT| Updated May 31, 2020 10:54 pm PT
To whom much has been given…much is expected…(Luke 12:48)
I think it is possible to say that the events of the last week re: George Floyd’s shocking death at the hands (and knees) of 4 police officers in Minnesota is bringing about a new standard. I could be wrong but I have been seeing hints in the air that there will be a higher burden on all people to “get their hands dirty” with respect to standing up for social justice, opposing racism, police brutality, income inequality, etc.. The usual and customary up to now has been to give a pass to those who are not actively causing the problem or exhibiting offensive behavior, “racism”, etc.. “Offensive behavior” is being redefined to include doing nothing–to include just focusing on your stuff and participating in the status quo. “I’m not a racist” has always been ample salvation; it granted you immunity to all responsibility for racism. You could stay in your 4 BD 3 BA and drive your SUV around and say “no mea culpa”.
The narrative just might be changing….it may play out that you and me (are) part of the problem if we are not actively trying to fix the problem…after all, it’s our country, our society, and it’s OUR problem…not their problem but OUR problem. Blacks have been taking it in the neck in this country since the early 1600’s…it’s just breathtaking to think about. It NEVER gets fixed. There will be an expectation that everyone who cares should be “hands on” in one form or another…the old standard has failed catastrophically…..like eating soup with a fork. If you walk by someone who is drowning in a pool and render no assistance and they die you won’t be “off the hook” just because you didn’t actually drown them. You won’t be legally responsible …in a free society no one can make you care or act in these matters but just like when you mistreat your dog or child in public, there will be some shaming and judgment that accompanies the behavior. Do we boycott companies or brands that do not have an active program to address police brutality, racism, etc.? I don’t know but something must change. Why?, because when you stay silent and passive when destruction is happening to people or people are starving or without health care then that means you are enabling the suffering…you are only one degree of separation away from the direct brutality and abuse. It can be argued that to not oppose the oppressor is enabling the oppression…so, a choice has to be made…..living in a society like ours is a contact sport….income inequality, racism, etc., is everyone’s problem..
Other countries don’t seem to have these types of issues. Blacks are treated much differently in Europe. They don’t have a history of race riots and police brutality.…England ended slavery without a war in 1833. Income inequality is not grotesquely absurd like it is here…poverty is not accepted in Europe the way we pass by it without a glance……this is our problem! We brought them over here in chains against their will and now, after 400 years we still don’t think they deserve social justice and fair treatment under the law?…Well, not unless they can dunk a basketball or they act like Denzel. The “elite” blacks have gotten a pass for the most part…but those blacks who haven’t experienced the American dream (99.9%) are treated horribly…we just don’t give a care…we care about our own family, our friends, our dogs, cats, Range Rovers, temperatures in our hot tubs, thread count in our sheets, but we don’t care (discernibly) about intense levels of suffering that were all fostered by White America.
For starters, as far as I’m concerned, it’s time to call out those who are profiting immensely from the random system we have created. We need to hold them accountable…Blacks have a special prominence in professional sports; along with music it has been an incredible platform. It is the place where the black community, at this time, has the most leverage. They have the spotlight and tons of white corporate owners in sports and entertainment and concessions and merchandising, etc., are relying on black athletes to make them millions and millions…and do nothing to threaten the flow of money coming in. So, in light of that power I’m not willing to give a pass to those who could do so much but who instead just throw another touchdown pass or knock down a 3 point shot or do another Carnival Cruise commercial. The time is now….it’s always been “now”.
It’s ironic, unfair, and sad that I am placing the biggest burden on black athletes to save their own race. Sadly, this is how it works in white, male America. White males don’t grant anyone anything, even basic sustenance, unless it is demanded repeatedly and unless white, male America sees it in their best interest to change, or suffer a bigger consequence. Blacks weren’t given civil rights one day because white males felt “it was about time”. Rosa Parks, MLK, and many others had to get arrested, beaten, bludgeoned, march, rally, before the gravity became so great that the democratic party (largely but not exclusively) wrote and voted for the Civil rights Act of 1964 and the Voting rights Act of 1965 (now significantly watered down by our recent Congress). Women didn’t get the right to vote because white lawmakers woke up and said “it’s 1920 and it’s about time that women should be treated like full citizens”. No, women had to be beaten, bloodied, imprisoned, go on hunger strikes, and fight for years and years so that white, male lawmakers realized that this was a losing battle in the end. The LBGT community similarly had to show relentless courage and organization and protests to get long awaited rights and dignity bestowed upon them by recalcitrant white, male lawmakers….
Our history is there for the viewing….We came to a foreign land, to this continent and drove out the indigenous people…we slaughtered them. We wiped them out…we passed the Indian Removal act in 1830 which gave the U.S. the self anointed authority to take lands from Indians east of the Mississippi in exchange for reservation land in the West. “Manifest Destiny”, remember? And, for those African American slaves who we forcibly brought here to work for us like oxen, we kept them as property until 1865 and since then we have lynched, tortured, ignored, segregated, isolated, imprisoned, and shunned them up until this very minute. It’s a legacy of death and destruction and greed and lust perpetrated by white males against women and people of color. It’s calculated, relentless, and indisputable.
So, yes…I’m calling on black athletes to demand action. What might they do? The possibilities are endless. I know that they could depend on the cooperation of ESPN, the NBA, the NCAA, the NFL, MLB, etc., if enough prominent black (and white) athletes threatened to “take a knee” unless there was a clear plan to address the issues at hand. If there was agreement that this was a huge priority in our society and that sports has a unique opportunity to take the lead then changes could take place. People like Lebron James and Tiger Woods could be at the front of this social change. Instead, the message is: I’ll play basketball for you but I won’t take a stand so that your quality of life might be better and more dignified.
As I see it there are presently two kinds of black athletes. Those willing to take a stand and those unwilling.
There are only a very small handful of members in one category….I’m only pointing out (4) though there are many others, of course.
Colin Kapaernick: A former starting QB for the S.F. 49ers and a backup QB in 2016. He last played in the NFL in 2016 and was released even though he had a 28 – 30 record as a starting QB in the NFL and a 4 – 2 record as a starting QB in the playoffs. He was growing increasingly frustrated and angered by the almost daily reports of police brutality against (mostly) unarmed black males leading to death. Kapaernick decided to do something remarkably peaceful..something that MLK and Ghandhi would have applauded. He decided that during the ceremonial national anthem where, for some reason during sporting events, everyone is (expected) to stand up in support of the United States flag, Kapearnick would “take a knee” instead of standing for the anthem. He was not comfortable glorifying the U.S. in light of the rampant deaths of defenseless black americans at the hands of the power structure. Besides, being asked to stand and sing a song of reverence (to anything) is a form of coercion. It’s an odd thing to ask of 50,000 people at a sporting event. He wanted to draw attention to the fact that the U.S. was not living up to the most basic tenets of it’s formation…no one was doing anything about it (and haven’t for the life of this country) and he decided to show immense courage and defiance…peaceful defiance…he, himself, had amassed millions playing in the NFL…he had already made his riches….but he was thinking of others…he was taking a knee for others. Initially a group of other black football players joined him and took a knee….the NFL and it’s owners soon sensed the disapproval by some fans who had grown to expect compliance to the power structure and nationalism above all else. The league threatened to fine and suspend players who did not stand for the anthem. Trump, himself, took it a step further as he often does and said “You have to stand proudly for the National Anthem. You shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe they shouldn’t be in the country…they are sons of bitches and they should be fired”
There is nothing about being a professional athlete that says that you must salute the American flag…or be a Christian, or whatever…..that is, to me, something that Nazi Germany would enforce or North Korea. That is not the America we were promised. Anyways, why is standing for the anthem more important than actually living up to the promises of the anthem? Criticizing America is what has made us who we are …or at least that’s what it says in the “manual”. It says nothing in the Constitution about being forced to salute the flag or being fired or forced out of the country. That’s talk from the Totalitarian manual. That’s fascist talk. In America we need to feel safe to question standards and status quo or else we would still be living in slavery, literally.
If not, why did we break from England to begin with? England makes no such promises to it’s citizens through a Constitution. We do!
“I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” – James Baldwin
The NFL didn’t care…just like with the concussion problem and it’s devastating effects on athletes we know the NFL will not take action if it affects their financials. It takes no stands based on principle and ethics. Just like Amazon and Apple they have no conscience whatoever. They are all about profit. The NFL never says “let’s do the right thing”. It says “let’s do the profitable thing”. It’s only about the money with the NFL. I believe that.
Within a short time all the other players who took a knee initially (all black players) took their orders in stride and they stepped in line and obeyed. They caved to the threats. They didn’t want to take any risks to their money…they abandoned Kapaernick…it was shocking and personally very disturbing…they left him to die in the wind…Kapaernick, however, did not cave. He didn’t stop taking a knee….he lost his job and has not been rehired to play even though he is clearly one of the top 30 QB’s in the NFL.
John Carlos and Tommie Smith, American Olympians:
In 1968, during the height of national racial riots and just two months after the assassination of MLK, Americans John Carlos and Tommie Smith were competing in the Olympic games in the 200 meter sprints in Mexico City…they were there to earn medals for the U.S.. They finished first and third and on the medals stand they famously and defiantly raised their fists wearing black gloves in an effort to draw attention to overt racism in the country they were representing..…it cost them big. That was 52 years ago and the polar ice caps are melting faster than race relations are changing.
Just run the race and be a good …
Carlos and Smith hadn’t cashed in on their Olympic success..they weren’t going to be on Wheaties boxes, certainly not anymore. They decided that they had a larger responsibility to the African American population and that wasn’t winning gold medals.
John Carlos feels he was put on Earth to perform this function:
“In life, there’s the beginning and the end,” he says. “The beginning doesn’t matter. The end doesn’t matter. All that matters is what you do in between – whether you’re prepared to do what it takes to make change. There has to be physical and material sacrifice. When all the dust settles and we’re getting ready to play down for the ninth inning, the greatest reward is to know that you did your job when you were here on the planet.”
“The greatest problem is we are afraid to offend our oppressors. I had a moral obligation to step up. Morality was a far greater force than the rules and regulations they had. And then came the storm. First boos. Then insults and worse. People throwing things and screaming racist abuse. “Niggers need to go back to Africa!” and, “I can’t believe this is how you niggers treat us after we let you run in our games.”
Globally, it was understood as an act of solidarity with all those fighting for greater equality, justice and human rights. Margaret Lambert, a Jewish high jumper who was not allowed to represent Germany on the 1936 German Olympic team said, “When I saw those two guys with their fists up on the victory stand, it made my heart jump. It was beautiful.”
As Carlos explains in his book, their gesture was supposed, among other things, to say: “Hey, world, the United States is not like you might think it is for blacks and other people of colour. Just because we have USA on our chest does not mean everything is peachy keen and we are living large. The United States represents a set of promises, and rights, and freedoms, it is not about a flag or an anthem or some stars and stripes….what good is that to someone being denied their rights…?”
“It’s not the responsibility of the oppressor to educate us. We have to educate ourselves and our own. That’s the difference between Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan. Muhammad Ali will never die. He used his power and position to say something about the social ills of society. Of course, he was an excellent boxer, but he got up and spoke on the issues and made sacrifices. And because he spoke on the issues and made sacrifices, he will never die. There will be someone else at some time who can do what Jordan could do. And then his name will just be pushed down in the mud. But they’ll still be talking about Ali.”
Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) was the Heavy weight champion of the world…he was only 24 when he was drafted to go to fight in Vietnam. He was just starting to realize the fruits of his labor…
Perhaps inspired by Rosa Parks who refused to go to the back of the bus in 1955 and was arrested, Clay refused to serve in the U.S. military. No one at his place of prominence, a black man, had shown the audacity to take on the White establisment and the United states government….looking back he was incredibly thoughtful and courageous….it’s hard to overstate the importance of his act.
“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America,” he said at the time. “And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. … Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.”
“Just take me to jail”. That gives me chills. He was totally resigned to go to prison.
His refusal was a felony offense that was punishable by five years in prison and a fine of $10,000. It led to Ali’s arrest and eventual conviction—though he stayed out of prison while his case was appealed. His license to box was suspended in New York the same day, and his Heavyweight title stripped; other boxing commissions followed. Ali was unable to obtain a boxing license in the U.S. for the next three years. He lost the 3 best years of his boxing life…he lost it all…That, is why Ali will always be timeless. He pushed the human race forwards.
And then there is the category that makes up the vast percentage of black athletes; People like Lebron James, Tiger Woods, Steph Curry, James Harden, and many, many others, and all those in the NFL who took a knee but then decided not to take a knee after they were threatened by the power structure…these people might be nice guys, likable guys and great athletes but they are failing society. They only want the fruits of their labors and no responsibility to help people of their race who “can’t breath”. I like Lebron and Steph as people. But, being a “nice guy” isn’t going to get it done. I’ll go even further and say that they are thoughtless, at best, but more likely selfish, indifferent, and lacking in any real concern for others when, in fact, they could do so much to improve the issue….Sorry, the stakes are too high to be gentle about this. I can’t imagine how these guys sleep at night after leaving Kapaernick alone…These guys all have millions and millions and millions in the bank. Where was Lebron? He did Nothing…if he had called his fellow black athletes (and even the white ones) and asked them to collectively take a knee in support of Kapaernick then I think they would have….but Lebron just continued to slam dunk and “chock toss” and draw attention to himself and do Pepsi commercials and sweep it all under the rug. Where was Shaq and Tiger Woods who has a billion dollar enterprise? In the end they stood for themselves…they are all about themselves…even though they have experienced incredible glory and wealth they are not willing to stand up for what was right…That’s been ok up to now…society has placed no burden on anyone for just staying home and counting their money and taking selfies….don’t count on that to last…people are dying.
It takes courage and it takes a willingness to risk a few things…if you are Lebron or Tiger you are risking next to nothing…you have the rarefied opportunity to be a huge force for change simply because you are the best basketball player or golfer in the land. (It’s not my problem) appears to be Lebron’s mantra. It’s Tiger’s mantra. When Trump called Kapaernick and others who took a knee, “sons of bitches” Lebron tweeted that Trump was a “bum”. That was a totally impotent gesture. A tweet? Is that what Ali would do? A tweet? Steph Curry said he would not go to the White House. I’m not impressed….Not at all. I would say there is nothing in these actions or words to say that these stars care more than just a twitter post or a few dollars thrown in the offering plate.
Asking a white man to risk anything for a black man is asking too much, apparently …they don’t have it in them….though there is a white Olympic American fencer who took a knee after winning a gold medal ….
United States gold medal winning fencer Race Imboden dropped to one knee back in 2018 during an award’s ceremony as the US flag was raised in a political protest.
Imboden, a Tampa native and 2016 Olympic team event bronze medalist, later explained his actions on Twitter.
“We must call for change. My pride in representing this country has been cut short by the multiple shortcomings of the country I hold so dear to my heart. Racism, gun control, mistreatment of immigrants, and a president who spreads hate are at the top of a long list.
I encourage others to please use your platforms for empowerment and change.”
In writing this piece I thought to myself how this might be viewed by people…the idea that we should be held accountable for doing nothing. My feelings are that we have no choice…we can’t keep going in the direction we have been going. I asked myself, if someone came up to me and asked me if I was doing enough to address and alleviate racism or income inequality, etc., would I get defensive? I suppose I might have in the past but my attitude now is to see it as an opportunity to re-examine my actions and up my commitment. No reason to get defensive. It’s not a competition. We are all in this together…unless we think this way I fear we have no chance.
Food for thought…..
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