The absence of white athletes kneeling for the anthem Sunday was a particularly illustrative moment in white privilege.
See, for white athletes the anthem and American flag do represent freedom, liberty and whatever other amorphous American values one might ascribe these symbols. So, from their view, kneeling would be disrespectful to the privileges a white supremacist nation affords them.
We’ve all heard the typical argument against kneeling. “Kneeling during the anthem disrespects the flag and the soldiers who fought for your right to protest and blah blah blah patriotism!”
Now, I’m not going to spend much time with the most obvious counter, but it’s worth stating. In the fairytale we Americans tell ourselves where soldiers fight wars for freedom and not imperial conquests, the story says they’re fighting for someone’s right to protest, not the opposite. So using the troops as a cudgel against protest wholly misunderstands even our own national fairytale.
So, that’s obvious enough, but what I’m talking about is this. If white athletes can’t fathom kneeling because they feel soldiers fought for their rights and blah blah blah patriotism, it’s because they are treated as full citizens and afforded those rights they imagine soldiers fought for. Interpreting their own experience as something more universal, they struggle to understand why anyone should kneel. Indeed, for them, the anthem and American flag represent promises fulfilled.
This is the problem of privilege. It skews our ability to grasp what the world looks like outside our view.
But even in the terms of American values, Kaepernick’s point is quite straightforward — the promises that underlie those values remain unfulfilled for black Americans.
This isn’t a matter of opinion. Statistics reveal disparities along racial lines regarding wealth, education, healthy food, employment, health care, housing, wages, criminal charges/sentences and practically every other imaginable measure of quality of life. This isn’t a mistake of history or attributable to individual or cultural traits of the oppressed. These are the results of centuries of systemic white supremacy, plain and simple.
Anyone who professes to care about America’s alleged values should be fighting to extend them to those they’re deprived. If they aren’t full of shit, that is.
And while the protest at the heart of all of this isn’t about the anthem or the flag, it is about calling on America to live up to its self-professed values. As long as black people are killed by cops in the streets or left to wither away in the state’s cages without recourse, that anthem and flag represent promises unfulfilled for millions of Americans.
Understand this. White supremacy — as in the structures of opportunity, the legacy of/ongoing oppression of non-whites, and the asymmetrical hoarding of resources by whites — is what affords us the privileges that limit our view, making a peaceful act of protest seem offensive in spite of the broader context of what’s being protested. And the ignorant result of that privilege was on full display Sunday as white players stood next to their black teammates.
So let’s at least be clear that what those players stood for on Sunday was white supremacy. Full stop.