Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina, headquarters of the Carolina Panthers of the National Football League. Photo by Jas&Suz, Creative Commons
I am a Carolina Panthers fan. But if the black citizens of Charlotte and white supporters of justice block the entrance to the stadium on Sunday, I will not be going to the game. I would not cross that protest line, just as I would not cross a picket line.
Football fans, football players, and black and white people across this country are coming to grips with police violence against black people and how it disfigures our nation.
It’s important that white people begin to recognize the validity of black people’s stories. For all the hell that black people can raise, and are raising in Charlotte and elsewhere, what has to happen is that white people must begin to recognize their own privilege. And they need to understand that white privilege is not in line with what they are singing when they put their hands over their hearts for the national anthem.
The movement for justice is growing. White women in the WNBA are standing in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, who brought massive attention to the issue when he knelt for his first game of the season in the National Football League.
But the 2015 MVP and $160 million quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, Cam Newton, went all mush-mouthed when he was asked about Kaepernick’s protest.
“Who am I to say that it’s wrong? Who am I to say that it’s right?” Newton equivocated. “Either or, it’s still personal.”
During the 2015 season and prior to losing the Super Bowl, Newton said he was an “African American quarterback—that may scare a lot of people.”
But something changed with him in 2016. In an interview with GQ, Newton said, “We, as a nation, are beyond racism.” Many people believe that the fact that the Panthers hired Frank Luntz, the famous Republican spin doctor, to coach Newton on how to talk about race, had something to do with the change.
A few days after the Panthers-49ers game in Charlotte, police shot and killed Keith L. Scott.
Protesters took to the streets. And Newton, who had been criticized by the black community, changed his tone—a little. “It’s embarrassing these things keep happening,” he said. And he tweeted “I salute my brother @kaepernick7 for making a stand for injustice in this country but . . . the real problem will always be the people; and how we treat one another!”
At his press conference, Newton made a thinly veiled reference to black-on-black crime, saying, “So it’s not a point in time where I just don’t want to finger-point and hold this specific entity up to a standard that we’re all not living up to.”
That’s nonsense. The problem is not bad behavior by individual people or groups of people. The problem we face today is the same root problem Martin Luther King Jr. was organizing against until the day he died. Years ago, King laid bare the fundamental problem of this country that we love or try to love when he said the “problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated.”
Kaepernick was saying the same thing when he refused to stand for the national anthem.
When we see, feel, hear and bare all the meanness and violence in this country today, especially in this election year, King’s analysis screams loudly true.
The politicians, corporations and even descendants of Confederates call the conscious person extremist. They try to embarrass or threaten the protester with their false patriotism, nationalism, militarism and a police state for everyone but white people.
The bullies in the sports arenas demand that we all should stand up, sing the anthem, salute the flag and simply “thank them [the troops] for their service” because that what the rituals represent - not the Constitution and the rights we’re all suppose to have in common.
The bullies in blue demand that we all should stand up, sing, salute and simply “thank them for their service” even as they disproportionately kill unarmed black people, mostly men, but black women die too. Sandra Bland pretty much died in jail because she didn’t use the appropriate turn signal. Still more recently, Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma got the death penalty because his car broke down.
It’s the ridiculously unfair demand that blacks must now interact with cops in even mundane situations with their hands in the air. And that still doesn’t mean you won’t get shot or killed. Look at what happened earlier this summer to Charles Kinsey, a behavior therapist, lying on the ground holding both hands in the air, trying to comfort his twenty-three-year-old while male patient with autism who had wandered into the street with a toy truck. A North Miami cop arrived on the scene with the intent to shoot the patient but missed and shot Kinsey. After the shooting stopped, Kinsey asked the cop, “Sir, why did you shoot me?” The cop replied, “I don’t know.”
Militarized police departments, many of which now regularly use SWAT teams to execute a simple warrant, may disproportionately kill more people of color, but they kill more whites than blacks. Nineteen-year-old Zachary Hammond was shot and killed by police in Seneca, S.C., during a marijuana bust. He got the death penalty for trying to drive away.
White people’s enduring fear of blacks as the “enemy within” is a cornerstone of this country. That fear has caused so many deaths through the centuries. It’s the “warning” to whites expressed by Alexis de Tocqueville in 1840:
“If there ever are great revolutions there, they will be caused by the presence of the blacks upon American soil. That is to say, it will not be the equality of social conditions but rather their inequality which may give rise thereto.”
Modern day policing seems to exist and operate on this idea.
If you’re a person of color, you know that daily, in the most mundane ways, you’re going to be profiled. For me, two incidents stand out in my mind. Once was when I was in a car in Virginia traveling to Washington with a white female colleague who was driving and got stopped for speeding. The young black trooper looked inside the car, looked at me and asked the driver,
“Ma'am, are you transporting this man?”
Another time I was crossing the U.S.-Mexican border through Tijuana with three white ACLU colleagues and the border guard looked in the car and asked me where was I born. I suppose being with white people decreased the chances of something tragic happening. That’s how white privilege works.
The day after Kaepernick took a knee during the playing of the national anthem to protest the killing of blacks by police, a local reporter asked me did I think his act of defiance was as significant as Muhammad Ali’s anti-Vietnam War protest. I said no, given all that Ali gave up. Ali gave up his livelihood, freedom and fought his sentence all the way through the courts.
But then I thought about it all little more and added that Kaepernick’s protest was surely in the spirit of Ali, and of Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists in a black power salute at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. And Fannie Lou Hamer getting kicked off her sharecropper farm for refusing to take her name off the voting rolls. The white plantation owner told Hamer, "If you don't go down and withdraw your registration, you will have to leave. Then if you go down and withdraw you still might have to go because we're not ready for that in Mississippi." Hamer told him, "I didn't try to register for you. I tried to register for myself." She had to leave that same night.
Kaepernick follows in the tradition of Rosa Parks. Parks sat in the white folks section of the bus by herself. Others came after.
Many condemned Kaepernick or showed how ignorant, spineless, bought off or down-right dim-witted they are. Yet on the upside, Kaepernick should know by now given what he’s gone through, including death threats and possibly an early end to his career, that the ones who make the history books are the ones stand up or kneel and say, “No more!” Or, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired!” He’ll be in the history books for something more than passes, runs and touchdowns. Most of his detractors won’t even be in the footnotes. Those standing or kneeling with him are part of a new movement generation.
I’ll be standing with them on the sidelines this Sunday.
Kevin Alexander Gray is an author, Progressive contributor, member of The Progressive’s editorial advisory board and organizer of the Harriet Tubman Freedom House Project in South Carolina.