For the past month I’ve watched lots of white Americans lose their minds in response to Colin Kaepernick and other NFL player’s peaceful National Anthem protests. I’ve seen them question these young men’s patriotism, malign their motives, attack their methods, and treat them with the kind of open contempt usually reserved for serial killers and child molesters.
For simply taking a knee during a football pre game in an effort to foster a conversation about the deaths of young men of color at the hands of police, these men have been made into the enemy by so much of white America. In some twisted, ironic, almost laughable missing of the point—it’s somehow become the angry black man’s fault for disparaging his country.
And today, as the footage of unarmed father of four Terence Crutcher’s public execution goes viral, I’ve been looking to these same people for some semblance of grief at his passing, some anger at the circumstances of his death, some outrage at the sickening deja vu these images are manufacturing.
But I’m finding none of these things. Instead I’m finding victim blaming and rationalizing and elaborate efforts to tell us why our eyes aren’t seeing what they’re seeing.
I know what my eyes see. I know what they see over and over and over again.
They see humanity ignored, they see fear metastasized, and they see white people excusing away murder instead of facing the brutal truth that maybe institutional racism is real and maybe Colin Kaepernick and his brethren are worth listening to, and maybe they shouldn’t be vilified outliers who we’re trying to shut-up.
Maybe we should all be kneeling right now.
White friends, if your immediate response to the shooting of Terence Crutcher or any other man of color is to try and justify why he’s dead instead of asking why he was shot, you may be the problem here. If you aren’t greatly burdened with grief for these families and you aren’t moved with compassion for the way scenes like this repeatedly kick people of color in the gut, you need to ask yourself some difficult questions about your own patriotism, your own appreciation of freedom, your own civic responsibility. You need to ask yourself whether you’re really for Liberty—or just white comfort.
Because from where I’m standing, I see Colin Kaepernick and those like him doing what many of you aren’t doing. I see them trying to keep more people from dying. I see them doing something to stop the bleeding instead of trying to make peace with it. I see them being the best of America in the face of the worst of America.
Right now we should all be taking an unflinching look in the mirror, white friends.
We should be digging deeper and facing our own acquired blind spots and inherited prejudices, and acknowledging the deeply embedded privilege that makes those things so very difficult to assess on our own.
We should stop defending songs and flags and pre game ceremonies, and some cheap, ornamental nationalistic pageantry—and actually be about the work of life. We should be binding-up wounds instead of heaping salt upon them with our shame and disdain.
And instead of demonizing Colin Kaepernick and instead of blaming Terence Crutcher and instead of shouting down our brothers and sisters of color as they mourn, we should be listening to them.
More than that, we should be saying with our presence and our pain and our social media voices that we are grieving alongside them; that this is not okay with us, that this is not the America we want either.
Our brothers and sisters of color should not be kneeling alone anymore.
Today white Americans, we should all be taking a knee.