"It's the Same, Old Song"
What Goes Around, Comes Around
For some reason it’s been a busier than usual week and The Blast has taken a back seat to other activities. As the “respect the flag” vs. “peaceful protest” debate(?) continues I thought it might be interesting to look back at a couple of Blast’s that were written one year ago just to see how little headway/progress has been made in this whole controversy.
PLEASE NOTE THE DATES!
Friday, September 1st (2016)
Oh, Say, Will We Ever See?
Here we go again. Colin Kaepernick refuses to stand during the “Star Spangled Banner” at the beginning of NFL games and America loses its collective mind. I have yet to hear anyone discuss why Kaepernick is doing this and how that issue should be a national priority. No, we hear about his socks (cartoon pigs dressed as police), about other NFL players (current and retired) who are telling him he should “respect the flag,” and the media, in general, shining its light on everything but the reason Kaepernick is not standing during the anthem.
Ebenezer Samuel, in today’s New York Daily News, notes that the entire purpose of a protest is to agitate. “There is really no ‘right’ place for a protest, because then it wouldn’t be a protest, would it?” Samuel writes --- and I agree wholeheartedly. I also love what Harry Belafonte said in a TV One interview: “To mute the slave has always been to the best interests of the slave owner.” Let’s recognize this furor for what it is: Colin Kaepernick, a man of color, an NFL quarterback, is being “uppity.” Instead of being grateful for playing in the NFL (as if he didn’t work to achieve that) Kaepernick has the nerve to disrupt our mindless viewing of a football game and demand, in his way, that we confront a grave national problem. In the last three years we (particularly white America) have seen police gun down defenseless black men. Are we to believe that these were aberrations that just began happening three years ago with Michael Brown? All those years that African Americans told us that the police brutality in their community was real, that arrests, beatings, and, indeed, killings of black men was a systemic problem that needed to be addressed has been proven in our digital age, where everything goes viral. That’s the issue. That’s why Colin Kaepernick is refusing to stand for the national anthem --- to bring attention to the issue that concerns him as a man of color in 2016 U.S.A.
The backlash has been swift and severe. His first amendment right suddenly becomes “disrespect” for our troops. Really? Where’s the connection, other than in the minds of people who do not want a person of color having the nerve to confront them with an uncomfortable reality? If we look at the rise of Trump, and the eight-year Republican Party refusal to work with the first African-American president, we shouldn’t be surprised at this reaction to Colin Kaepernick. The nexus of racism and “patriotism” is the hot button that Kaepernick has pushed.
Historically, “patriotism” in the United States has been the property of those who run the country --- which means white men, of course, and to dispute that fact is to deny the history of this nation. (If you don’t believe that, see me after class) We have watched this drama before. The late, great Muhammad Ali valiantly stood his ground, sacrificing three years in his prime, to exercise his right to follow his conscience and speak his mind. In the recent celebrations of Ali’s life and greatness there was little coverage of just how vilified that man was. Jim Brown, walking away from the NFL in his prime and standing with Ali and leading Civil Rights struggles himself, was another who faced the kind of attacks we now see leveled at Kaepernick. John Carlos and Tommie Smith lost their Olympic medals because of their protest in Mexico City in 1968. And here we go again.
I support Kaepernick (for what that’s worth) but what I’d love to see is more of his teammates, as well as players all over the NFL and NBA (black and white), employ similar tactics to provoke a very public conversation about why African-American athletes would protest so visibly. Athletes have a unique platform, as Ali proved, and they have an advantage granted by their privilege (formerly reserved to white men, only --- and don’t for a minute believe the response to Kaepernick is not rooted there!) to speak out about problems that tear our society apart. The Miami Heat wore hoodies after Trayvon Martin was murdered by George Zimmerman, players in the NFL and NBA have entered their arenas with the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” pose, and “I Can’t Breathe” (Eric Garner’s last words) has appeared on warm up shirts --- all protests aimed at raising awareness. But Kaepernick’s solitary action during the National Anthem (which has a third stanza that says, “No refuge could save the hireling and slave /From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave, /And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave/ O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave” written about the black British Colonial Marines who were former slaves fighting for Great Britain in exchange for freedom) has sparked controversy because, as the NFL season is about to start those millions of fans do not want the “real” world to interfere with their Sunday entertainment/religion. It will be interesting to see what happens when Kaepernick persists and the media loses its short attention span once the “real” games start.
Please stand (or not) for the National Anthem.
Sunday, September 25th (2016)
"I Read the News Today . . . oh, boy"
It’s Sunday, September 25th, and there is a confusing array of materials and ideas strewn across my desk, all of which have my mind roiling. I’m not sure where this Blast is going. There is the ongoing story of the Charlotte, NC, police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott; Colin Kaepernick is on the cover of Time Magazine (above, left) with a story about his protest against that police violence; and Bill Nunn, an actor best known for playing Radio Raheem (above, center) in Spike Lee’s iconic Do The Right Thing is on today’s NY Times obituary page. If you have not seen Lee’s movie, Raheem is a gentle giant who wears four rings on each hand, one spelling LOVE and one HATE, and carries a huge boom box (remember those days?). Raheem, in a frightening precursor to the Eric Garner event (above, right), is choked to death with a police baton, inciting the final, riotous scene in the movie. When all of that is thrown at me first thing in the morning, I feel compelled to write about where we find ourselves just 43 days from the presidential election and on the eve of Monday night’s presidential debate.
Starting with the Charlotte shooting, it now seems the police story raises more questions (for me) than answers. There is no conclusive evidence that Scott had a gun in his hand (one video clearly shows his right hand is empty --- he was right-handed). My deeper question is, why was Keith Scott approached by the police at all? They were in the area to serve a warrant on someone else in the housing complex. Their claim, in today’s NY Times, is that “as they were preparing to serve a warrant on another person, . . .he was rolling a marijuana cigarette inside his S.U.V. --- and (they) had observed him ‘hold a gun up,’ according to a news release.” Number one, North Carolina is an “open carry” state, so I’m not sure how holding a gun up suddenly becomes a confrontation (unless, of course, you are a black person with a gun?). Numerous comedians have gotten huge laughs describing how people act when they use marijuana: like getting pulled over for driving 8 miles an hour! The Scott video also shows the victim walking slowly (he had a TBI and had just taken his meds, as his wife shouted to the police) and certainly did not seem, in any footage, to be acting aggressively. We will have to see what is revealed today but I am feeling, more and more, that if Keith Scott were a white man he would be alive this morning.
Which leads to NFL Week 3. As we head into today’s NFL games we know Kaepernick and others will take a knee during the national anthem, protesting events like those that occurred in Tulsa and Charlotte this week. Whether this movement gains momentum because of Tulsa and Charlotte remains to be seen. What is at the heart of this controversy, as I see it, is the conflict between the competing notions of patriotism and protest. As during the Vietnam War, we are once again hearing people being told to “love it or leave it” if they don’t stand for the anthem. And I believe we are seeing some of the same kneejerk patriotism behind that “my country right or wrong” mentality, just as we did during the Vietnam era. I had trouble with it then and I have trouble with it now. Blind patriotism has always nettled me, particularly since I have too often engaged with people who demand I be more patriotic and who, when asked to explain their understanding of history or the issue, have little more than some emotional rejoinder. To demand that anyone waive his/her First Amendment right because of an obsession with the playing the national anthem before sporting events (something that doesn’t occur in other countries, btw) seems to be the unpatriotic act. My hope is that Kaepernick’s protest gains momentum among other athletes, black and white, in other sports and those high paid celebrity/athletes begin to engage in a serious discussion about the schisms in our society.
Finally, Bill Nunn’s passing is sad but noteworthy at this particular time in our national history. Spike Lee, against all odds, has been a successful and important filmmaker for 30 years --- too often, referred to as a “black” filmmaker. Why? It has bothered me, particularly as the years go on, that Lee is classified this way (at the expense of #Oscarssowhite nominations?). His films, particularly in the early years, certainly featured black actors and themes that had to do with the black community --- but how is that any different than what Woody Allen has done for neurotic, white, Jewish New Yorkers over the years? Mr. Lee has proven to be a versatile filmmaker, as well, creating a great documentary about New Orleans and Katrina (When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts) and also making films starring white actors like Edward Norton (Day 25) and Clive Owen (Inside Man). Do the Right Thing remains a great American film and is as important today as it was in 1989 when first released. The character Bill Nunn played, Radio Raheem, is “a towering young black man who always carries around a huge boom box blasting only Public Enemy's ‘Fight the Power.’” (http://dotherightthing.wikia.com/wiki/Radio_Raheem) As noted earlier, Raheem, in the climactic scene of the movie, has his boom box smashed by Sal (Danny Aiello), the pizza storeowner, and, in the ensuing fight, the police choke Raheem to death, leading to the manic riot that concludes the movie. I believe it is noteworthy that Lee’s film, and Raheem’s character, are still so relevant to our daily lives in 2016 America.
It’s Sunday, September 25th (2016): “I read the news today, oh, boy . . . “
9/29/2017 11:40:22 am
These blasts are well worth re-reading--especially because they remain so thoroughly topical a year later. I take special note of your writing that black athletes "have an advantage granted by their privilege," a point sharply in contrast with the right's insistence that their taking a knee is a sign that they are ungrateful for being able to make big money in America. As Trevor Noah has said with particular power, the idea that black athletes should be thankful for being allowed to succeed in America is almost as racist as you can get in the 21st century.
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