Kneeling. It’s a passive posture.
At various times, in various places, it could be a posture of prayer.
A posture of surrender. A posture of nobility or knighthood.
And sometimes, including right now, it is a posture of peaceful protest.
It is heartbreaking that this form of protest is being conceptualized as an insult towards those that have served, or currently serve, in the military. Although this interpretation is convenient, it’s dishonest. It’s fake news.
We all know why these men are kneeling.
But we still refuse to talk about that.
It’s much easier to just dishonestly divert the attention to allegations of unpatriotic behavior and the pseudo-outrage that follows. That is a defense mechanism that individuals use all of the time to avoid discomfort. But groups can use these defense mechanisms as well. And that is what much of America is doing right now.
If Black men protest, it’s a problem. If Black men organize, it’s a problem. If Black men speak out, it’s a problem.
If Black men silently kneel, it’s a problem.
There is no way for the voice of Black men to be heard that isn’t considered a problem.
Black voices that speak real Black truth and tell real Black stories are still not socially sanctioned. These voices are relegated to spoken word artists, rappers, poets, and preachers. And those voices have a context not a world stage. See, part of the problem is that these athletes have a world stage. These men are successful, intelligent, wealthy, famous, influential.
Let’s be honest. America has never been great for people of color.
Yes, there have been success stories. Yes, some people of color have “made it,” have become successful. But sports is one of the few areas in which this has been largely and consistently true on a large scale. We just simply are not there yet.
Sports is one of the few platforms that Black men have from which to speak or raise awareness. In fact, it’s the ONLY major one I can think of. That means it is a powerful and important platform.
Kneeling is meant to be a flashing arrow that points to two inconvenient truths: police violence and a corrupt justice system.
Both of these are absolute realities for minorities, and for Black men in particular, in our country. You won’t see many Black Americans questioning why these men are kneeling or considering it unpatriotic. Because that is so obviously not the intent. Mostly who you will hear making those allegations are those of us that don’t live that truth and don’t want to hear that truth. Some of us don’t get it. But, maybe even more of us don’t want to get it. The problem is that most of us humans in general simply don’t care about these issues, or any issues, unless they affect us personally.
I don’t know about you, but I can count the White people I know that are itching to address the injustices that Black citizens face on my fingers. Self-interest is often the national ethos. And that truth knows no color. But the power dynamics at play do know a color.
Look, I’m so White I practically glow in the dark. But, even so, I can tell you a little something about those Black knees that were kneeling today.
Those knees are wounded knees. Let me explain.
Every knee on the ground today represents thousands of Black men that are being treated unfairly, discriminated against, beaten, falsely accused, unfairly tried, unfairly sentenced, and murdered by police violence and the systemic abuses of the U.S justice system, not just historically, but also RIGHT NOW.
It’s not debatable. It’s an absolute reality.
The fact that this is true should be more offensive than the fact that a sports star, myself, or anyone else is pointing it out.
The real offense is that it takes kneeling at a sporting event to generate a dialogue. And that, even then, we aren’t talking about what those knees are asking us to talk about.
These men of color, way before they were stars, were students in our schools, often living in the marginalized neighborhoods in our towns and cities, often facing the injustices that many of their childhood friends and family members still face.
For the record: No one is comparing athletes to veterans.
But, we need to acknowledge that, for many black boys and men, America is a battlefield. There are landmines. There are soldiers. There are many dangers. Many of them structural.
For Black Americans, the justice system is still a dominance system.
If you don’t believe me, I urge you to look at the numbers. Or contact me, I’ll be more than happy to walk through the data with you. But, even better, talk to your Black peers. Ask them about their experiences and the experiences of their families. Everyone has a story. But some stories need to be told more than others.
Violence grows in silence.
If you don’t believe me ask the Navajo, Dakota, Lakota, Cheyenne, and Apache people. Ask the Arapaho, Modoc, Kiowa, and Comanche. Ask the Creek and the Cherokee. Ask the people at Standing Rock. Ask the people at Wounded Knee.
And ask members of the African American community.
If you are open enough, true enough, and safe enough to receive their truth… you will be changed.
You may even take a knee. Or a stance.
Written by Tony Cladwell