When they knelt, what did you feel?
Did you feel anger?
Or was it pride?
Or nothing at all.
Here’s a different question: How far down on the list of emotions was curiosity?
Did you ask yourself why?
How come a man who gets paid millions of dollars to play football just knelt down in protest during his country’s national anthem? Why did he refuse to pay homage when we saluted a flag that represents a society that hundreds of thousands of men and women have died for and tens of millions more, like me, have sworn to protect?
What answer did you get?
How much work did you put in to getting it?
Twenty generations have passed since a Dutch merchant ship landed at Jamestown and traded African slaves for repairs and supplies. The first 13 generations were born into slavery. They had the same basic rights as livestock for two centuries. Of the 20 generations that have come to pass since African slaves were first brought to America, only two have reached adulthood in a time in which they were not legally segregated from the rest of society and prohibited from education, jobs and full participation in the democratic process.
The outcome is inarguable modern inequality.
African Americans suffer twice the poverty rate of other Americans. They make half the income of white and Asian Americans. And they have twice the rate of unemployment. They have not had equality of opportunity. And they have not had equality of outcomes.
Those are facts.
And this is the reality:
In an economy that has begun, in earnest, to devalue low skilled labor and pay higher and higher premiums for higher skilled labor, something else is happening. What was once segregation that was mandated by law is now transitioning into economic segregation because of the widening wage gap. More African American children attend schools of majority African American population today than they did in the 80’s. Our urban populations are now a majority minority for the first time in our history. America is walling ourselves off from African Americans again. We just don’t need to build the wall ourselves anymore. Economics and math are doing it for us.
It’s not getting better. It’s getting worse.
So, how should the three living generations of African Americans feel about the inequality that inarguably comes from a country that treated the first 17 generations of their ancestors like a lesser species of man?
How about conflicted? If they are unhappy, which ones should speak up? Those with power? Or those without it?
Like it or not, showing up on my television is power.
When an African American is shot and killed by a white police officer, how should a black man feel about it? Is it respectful to feel the same way I feel when a white man is shot? Don’t break the law and you’ll be ok?
Or is it different for some reason?
Should I feel different about the justice system if I’m black?
If I’m treated differently by the American justice system, does that matter?
African Americans are nearly three times as likely to be stopped for a traffic violation than I am. They’re half as likely to be granted bail and 40% more likely to be sent to jail after an arraignment instead of released on their own recognizance. They’re 50% more likely to receive a plea that includes prison time instead of probation, time served or community service. They’re twice as likely to have a juror struck from the pool during their trial due to a fundamental disagreement with the death penalty. They’re twice as likely to receive a life sentence or longer in prison.
Does it matter how much of your country’s history passed before she protected you?
In the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s, bills outlawing lynch mob extrajudicial punishment passed in the House of Representatives. Each time, they were struck down in the Senate. In 2005, the Senate of the United States of America formally apologized for never passing an anti-lynching law. Between 1877 and 1950, a year in which both my parents were already alive, there were 3,959 African Americans killed by lynching.
More Americans than were killed on 9/11.
More than the American servicemen that died in Afghanistan.
Does any of that change how the African American community feels when a black man is killed by white authority figure in America. Or is it all just water under the bridge?
Different question now:
How come them?
Why NFL Players? Why men who play a game and make millions?
Why “millionaire crybabies?”
There are 540 billionaires in America. Three of them are African American. Oprah, Michael Jordan and private equity investor Robert Smith. If entertainers and athletes don’t count, then who? Is only Robert Smith allowed to protest? He’s going to get tired. And you don’t know what he looks like. But you could pick out Michael Jordan’s shoes from across the room.
Imagine how early this discussion would have started if MJ knelt?
Is he still a billionaire if he did? Maybe. But only because he played basketball better than anyone in the history of the world. All others, no chance. African Americans were excluded from the activities that lead to American wealth accumulation in the post WWII period, the greatest economic growth our country has ever seen.
No access to real estate.
No college education.
No union jobs.
There was one African American in all the trade unions in Chicago the year my mother started college. That’s why 50 years later, there are three African American billionaires.
An entertainer. A basketball player. And a businessman.
Protests are supposed to be disrespectful. That’s why they’re protests. They’re disruptive and uncomfortable. Like throwing tea in the harbor or sitting at lunch counters reserved for people with different colored skin.
The response is always the same from those being protested against.
If that last one bothered you more than the first three, why?
These were the answers to the hard questions I had when faced with the unambiguous lack of respect NFL football players were showing a ceremony that honored a country I swore to defend.
If you don’t have any of your own, I’m not sure I can help.