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Sunday, November 6, 2016

Racism, a Basketball Game, and an Election

People who think racism doesn't exist are missing a lot. Part of that is insulation from life in (usually, though not always) affluent white-dominated communities. Living in GA has opened my eyes to so many things. But another part of people thinking racism doesn't exist is somewhat willful ignorance. I brought something to a Springdale educator's attention privately in an effort not to make waves -- and for my trouble got told if I wasn't personally affected, then I shouldn't complain about being offended by something, even if it was racist, and even if the educator was on the record acknowledging racist content -- but people should just understand it was all in good fun. So who should complain?

These ladies are feeling affected, they are following a protocol which has been established by a pro-athlete. They spoke with their coaches about it. It wasn't a whim decision. For me, the push back they are getting says more about how far we have to come as a nation than their silent protest ever did or could.
These ladies are students. They are at the University to learn not just subject matter -- they are learning how to be adults and learning how to be heard. And that is HARD. It is hard for adults at 30 and 40. These young ladies are in their late teens or early 20s. 


I think it is wrong to criticize someone for any kind of protest without having previously engaged the protester in something that addresses their concern. And merely telling the ladies that they don't have a concern is disrespectful at a high, high degree.


People who are generally confused or not knowledgeable about racism in this country -- to me, that's like saying the Holocaust didn't happen and sexism isn't prevalent. I try to excuse as much as I can; I try to understand where people are coming from, but come on. Have they not seen how our President has been talked about -- the birther movement, the threats of lynching -- how did they MISS that? Do they not know what caused the riots in MO, NC, and other places? People not getting fair trials? Do they not understand about the Innocence Project -- what it is, what it does, and who it helps and needs to help? Do they not hear the awful things one of the presidential candidates says about (women,) immigrants and minorities? At some point, ignorance is not an excuse. Smoking causes cancer, drinking alcohol can cause liver damage, and being black can get you arrested, shot, and killed at a higher rate than being white. 


There are people who tweet Darius Rucker that he has no place in country music. There are people willing to yank Gabby Douglas's medal because she wasn't respectful enough. 


Racism can be a bit more subtle -- though we also have evidence that it is direct. You know when someone is looking at you in ways that make you uncomfortable. You may not be able to articulate it. But it still exists. We need to listen to people when they express their discomfort -- especially our young women. We need to give them safe spaces to express their concerns. 


The athletes may be more privileged than the people they kneel for. Maybe they aren't doing it for themselves, but for someone who didn't get their opportunities. And they are shedding light on intolerance. 


Kneeling is not a sign of disrespect. People kneel in their churches. They kneel to pray. For the talking point that kneeling is ever disrespectful -- really? To me, talking that kind of nonsense attempts to criminalize someone for their difference of opinion. And that hurts my heart. It makes me VERY angry. 


When our biker friends prevented Westboro Baptist Church members from protesting military funerals, that was a good protest. WBC was chanting and holding up signs condemning soldiers because we have equality in the military. And the bikers stopped it. The WBC was wrong to protest funerals. Their protest was disrespectful to grieving military families. What the bikers did was important.


Our best effort, until we know how to address the concerns racism presents, is to invite these athletes and people with concerns to talk to us. We need to listen to them. We can't do that while defending the status quo or telling them they are disgusting. We need to find out what they need and then we need to be willing to be uncomfortable so we can provide it. And one thing we can do immediately -- as white folks -- is to tell our neighbors to listen first. We are the privileged race/class. We do have a responsibility to help, and not to harm. 


It's good to struggle with this, but we've got to do more than that. And we need to understand that at this late stage in the game -- in 2016 with a really disrespectful POTUS candidate -- there are people who don't believe equality is a goal for people watching from the sidelines or worse, criticizing people for trying to raise awareness.


I was talking with some fellow authors this weekend and we laughed, but shook our heads at our shared experience. We have a whole month dedicated to black history, but MLK and Rosa Parks were the two representatives of the month mentioned year after year. We talked about all the history lessons where there was the token black and the token female -- and three white guys. Even lessons on suffrage dealt more with the men who fought against it then the women who fought for it. There is more to our history. We need to be open to it.
This post was created in response to the outrage some of my old neighbors had that six students took a knee during the anthem at a Lady Razorback game. And in light of those same people expressing their outrage who are simultaneously backing a candidate who supports violence and oppression of immigrants and minorities. I can't believe we are talking about this vote being close. I hope there is a landslide on Tuesday evening after the polls close -- but we ARE divided. We have some MAJOR problems that people are turning blind eyes to. And we need to help people to be heard. We need to help people to see the truth. I know it's hard. It's also important.