Getting Lost In The Neighborhood of Race: When Kneeling Sends Us Reeling on Facebook

I don’t know how or why but I somehow got ensnared in a Facebook conversation with someone who started out expressing sadness about her football team choosing to stay in the locker room during the national anthem before yesterday's game. And although sadness was the word she initially used, it became apparent (quickly) that being apoplectic at the audacity of the 'kneelers' might have been closer to truth. For anyone without electricity, the numerous NFL players knelt with owners and management in direct response to the Presidents attack on players. The kneeling was as an act of solidarity with one another but more importantly to underscore the sentiments that not all Americans feel included in the symbolism embedded in the ritual of standing during the national anthem ie liberty, equal respect and protection under the law are not (in practice) for everyone.

I actually don't know this woman and tried to figure out why we were friends but as is the way with social media, she was a friend of a friend of a friend. And while usually careful about who I engage with on serious matters such as race, I noticed she identified as a 'personal coach’' and assumed perhaps it was somewhat 'neutral' territory.

After scrolling through the conversation it was as if I’d meandered off on a side street, heard voices in an abandoned building and stumbled into a secret meeting.

It seems there is nothing quite like the outrage of some white folks when people of color don't fall in line. The artful attempt to justify indignation by declaring that kneeling in protest confirms a lack of love for country or patriotism or lack of respect for veterans is rather absurd and would be borderline amusing if not so disturbing.

The lack of comprehension that symbols aren't universal was evident and there didn't seem to be any consideration that we interpret and assign our own meaning to symbols based on our relationship to them—and experience of them. That a symbol can hold completely different meanings which invoke and often inspire different actions.

One by one people of color on the Facebook thread (who had apparently stumbled on this particular page also) seemed disturbed by the tenor of conversation which condemned the kneelers as ‘bums’ and ‘thugs’ and several informed the woman she was being 'unfriended'. This was met with an eerily inaudible cheering and a dismissive ‘see ya’. This, from a ‘life coach.’

Still not ready to exit the conversation, I suggested that she and friends consider what these young men were attempting to say through their actions and pay attention to their own 'reactions' to the peaceful protest. I pointed out these young men have stood with hand over heart for thousands and thousands of games during their lives and yet at this moment in time they chose to speak peacefully through this particular gesture—for a reason.

I also suggested they listen closely to what the players said. Some of the most even, calm, clear-headed and insightful comments were made by LeBron James following the President's verbal assault on them. Their actions are purposeful and intentional. And there is a reason owners and managers are supporting players and in solidarity with them.

After suggesting internalized racial bias lives in all of us and that an athlete’s right to freely and peacefully express themselves is as American as apple pie, it happened. I had committed the ultimate violation by hitting too closely on the nose—if not squarely—of truth. Having used the words 'racial bias' seemed to cause an unhinging of sorts and all modulated politeness evaporated.

What came next was a flurry of words about 'bitching' about a lost election, and a few insults thrown in about being a liberal and how the 'forgotten people' have spoken.

And suddenly I realized where I was. I was in the wrong part of town without a GPS which is pretty much how most conversations about race tend to feel with lots of white folks

To the players I say: Just keep kneeling, guys. Not half kneeling or bending. Let all the hot tempered season ticket holders huff and puff and make room for some new fans. And remember. You are employed, not owned. You are worthy.

Molly Secours is a writer/filmmaker/speaker who is currently directing and co-producing a feature documentary film with actor, Bill Murray and Hall Of Famer, Wade Boggs titled: “Scouting For Diamonds:The Invisible Heroes Of Baseball.” www.mollysecours.com

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