Before I start, I’m going disclose that I am white — like, almost horrifically so. I recognize that as such I’m afforded some rights and freedoms that are denied to other members of society. And even though I am a woman, there’s no way that my experiences can compare to those of anyone who is a person of colour.
That is why the protest-shaming of Colin Kaepernick and the other NFL players who are sitting or kneeling during the “Star-Spangled Banner” makes my blood boil. These are people who are standing up to attain the rights that are already extended towards white people in America.
There’s a long-standing tradition of African-American athletes protesting during the playing of the national anthem — most notably, Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ fists raised in the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics. The sitting and kneeling of Kaepernick and other NFL players is nothing new.
Yet (lots of) white people seem to hate it.
While the comments on websites like BuzzFeed have been relatively respectful for the Internet, that may have more to do with the sites’ readership demographic than overwhelming support for the athletes and Black Lives Matter movement. As of September 22, a quick Facebook search of Kaepernick’s name brings up one headline that stands out: “Colin Kaepernick says if he is killed for protests, it will have ‘proved point.’”
A quick scroll through the comments on this particular post brought up messages of support for his protest, POC educating white people about why this protest matters, and naturally, things like “white people have it bad too you know,” and “he’s doing it wrong.”
While messages of support and the education of uninformed people are great, the other two types of comments blatantly ignore the issue.
“White people have it bad too you know” is one of the most knee-jerk comments one can come up with. Yes, there are poor white people, and white people who get arrested; but that isn’t equivalent to what POC of the same socio-economic stature face. Just look at the length of time Brock Turner and Corey Batey were sentenced to after committing similar crimes, and tell me again how hard it is to be white.
The final “you’re [protesting] wrong” comment is the one that makes me shake my head and go, “Are you for real right now?” How would you, an unoppressed white person, like them to protest?
They take to the streets and march, you get mad. They take part in a peaceful protest, you get mad. They try to talk about the issues they face in a public forum, you change the channel or you get mad. What does that leave?
Nothing. It’s not really about protesting the “right” way; it’s about not protesting at all. It’s about a love of comfort and a fear of change. The way white people would like protests to happen wouldn’t make a large enough or lasting enough statement in regards to civil rights. Letter-writing campaigns and collecting signatures don’t garner lasting media coverage and can’t accomplish what needs to be done.
I hope that Kaepernick’s protest can make long-standing change and continue the conversation surrounding Black Lives Matter, and that police will stop shooting first and asking questions later. I don’t think that Kaepernick is protesting “the wrong way,” because as a white person, I’m not here to police your protest; I’m here to support your efforts.