Black men and women disproportionately fill our prisons. “Black Americans are 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers,” according to census data available from 2016 (from the Washington Post).
We do not yet live in a post-racial society. Former NFL quarterback Colin Kapaernick attempted to shed light on this issue by way of a peaceful protest in August 2016 when he sat during the playing of the national anthem before a San Francisco 49ers pre-season game against the Green Bay Packers. Cut to:
Our unhinged president addressing his base in Alabama last Friday night in a blithering fog of poorly constructed sentences. Among them: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He is fired. He’s fired!'”
And unless you live under a rock, you know what happened after that. Three teams refused to come out of the locker room Sunday and skipped the national anthem altogether (Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Tennessee). Every other team in the NFL protested with players sitting, kneeling, or locking arms. The team owners—old white guys who have supported Trump throughout his campaign and, up until yesterday, his viciously destructive and divisive presidency—joined them.
The president is ill advised to suggest the firing of any private citizen of the United States just because he can’t grasp the complexity of an issue that involves, well, thinking. It might also require reading. Also, thoughtful reflection and the ability to imagine what it must be like to be black in America. There I go again with the empathy card.
But the focus again is on Trump instead of any attempt at a meaningful discussion of race in this country. He’s very good at stirring the pot and horrible about caring what’s in it. His tomato soup would lack salt but include frogs, toads, and mace.
So let’s talk about it. Let’s discuss how we feel. Better yet, let’s have a chat about how black people experience their days. Uncomfortable? Because I’m not black? Are you afraid I’m going to offer broad assumptions from my hippy-dippy liberal intellect? Relax. I’m just going to start by quoting Atticus Finch:
“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” – from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
If we are ever to get past our racist impulses, we have to stop, imagine, and ask: What must it feel like to be judged before you even utter a word? What must it feel like to walk by a statue celebrating the life of a man who fought to keep your people as property, to be bought and sold? What kind of message does it send to people of color when the U.S. president defends neo-Nazis and white supremacists but excoriates those who protest peacefully? That every black person in America hasn’t “gotten over it” or “moved on” is because the rest of us haven’t either. Instead of urging team owners to fire their uppity players (and make no mistake, Trump’s suggestion was racist), the president should insist on finding ways to celebrate black lives; support comprehensive police and prison reform; accept education as the great equalizer and sit down with teachers, unions, and administrators to listen and implement proven methods (Betsy DeVos, you’re fired!); and reinforce our commitment, by any means necessary, to the notion that All Men Are Created Equal. After yesterday (and certainly Charlottesville), this feels urgent.
Almost as urgent (not really) is the NFL’s ability to continue as the most popular sports league in America. College recruiters have encountered diminishing prospects. Oddly enough, parents don’t want their sons dying young. If you haven’t seen the movie “Concussion,” do. It makes it a little harder to watch the games on Sunday but sweet Jesus, we’re not Romans and these players are not gladiators. But those helmets are weapons and used as such, a fifteen-yard penalty seems woefully inadequate. Trump isn’t a sports fan. He golfs. He wouldn’t know Steph Curry from Tim Curry. He doesn’t know that Wes Welker and Julian Edelman are not the same person. He complains about football games not being fun anymore because they lack the correct amount of violence just as foolishly as he encouraged police officers to get rougher with suspects while putting them in squad cars. You horrible, horrible man. If those helmets were put on suspects and football players stopped leading with their heads, then maybe we’d get somewhere.
You know what else is critical (I was talking earlier about urgency)? Puerto Rico. John Kelly, can someone in that lamebrain administration keep his or her eye on the ball?
For crying out loud, it’s back to you Robert Mueller. Please tell us you’re going to find something that sticks. Talk about urgency.
But also, talk about race.