Last week I went to a protest, which is usually cathartic in terms of relieving some of my political frustrations…but this time left me a little disappointed. It took a while to figure out why, but here is my reflection.
What it was about:
#TakeAKnee: It began in 2016 when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the National Anthem before an NFL preseason game.
When asked at that time why he did it, he responded:
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said, via NFL.com. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Later that year, Kaepernick started kneeling, and other players joined the silent protest. Some took a knee, some sat, some raised a fist. What made September 2017’s kneeling any different is that Donald Trump, the new President of the United States, noticed and saw it was a protest against him and the America that he stood for.
So far this year 168 African Americans have been shot and killed by police. It is because of police violence like this that Kaepernick and many others have kneeled during the National Anthem.
The way I see it is…athletes typically take a knee when players on the field are injured, in respect. Right now, America is injured and will continue to be until black and brown men are safe.
I went to the protest at Ford Field because I believe people of color shouldn’t be ostracized because they practice their freedom of speech in the public sphere. While white supremacists and klansmen take to the streets with tiki torches, white men of power are telling black men that they can not kneel during the National Anthem.
On Sunday, white supremacist Brian Pannebecker led a protest against the Detroit Lions because eight players knelt in response to Trump’s call for firing black/brown protesters. The Metro-Detroit Political Action Network (MDPAN) saw the opportunity to kneel in solidarity with the Lions and to confront the hate of those who wish to take away the rights of African American citizens.
I want to remind everyone that the day before this white nationalists once again took to the streets of Charlottesville with shouts of “we will be back and “you will not replace us.” In the midst of this racist dominance and intimidation I was expecting more people to come out and stand for what so many have been posting about on Facebook. Instead, only a handful of people appeared.
Despite the small number, we waved our signs and shouted “Black Lives Matter” on the busy corner. What puzzled me was the “Standers” aka anthem supporters were granted space in front of the actual stadium for a good chunk of time while we were confined to the inner corner of a parking lot, where passersbys could barely see us kneeling behind the fence. It felt demeaning and a little symbolic.
There were only three incidences between us and those walking by.
- This guy repeatedly yelling “All Lives Matter”
2. Someone disrespecting the veteran in our group (Michael B.), saying that he shouldn’t be wearing his uniform.
3. And this guy trying to discourage us by planting seeds of doubt in our heads:
(Video by MDPAN’s Jazmine Middlebrooks)
Though we were in a weird spot, many had to pass us on their way into the stadium. So, although we never got to confront the white supremacists, we were able to be gadflys to the public…many of whom were black/brown people passing by. People paused, nodded, lifted their fists, joined in chants. My hope is that those who HEARD us and listened, felt the message in their hearts and will join the fight for racial equality. Because although there were only about a dozen people on each side of the stadium holding signs, there were thousands going to the game, completely unaware of any problem.
Thousands completely oblivious to the suffering of oppression that is happening in our nation.
I’m saddened and angry that so many claim to be social justice advocates on social media but will not be active outside of the internet. At times, I feel like these people will only talk about politics when it’s the popular topic of the day and will only get fired up when it will get them likes and shares.
We cannot be afraid to confront the enemy face-to-face. We have to move away from distractions and move towards real progress…but that requires work and action.
I don’t mean spread hate, division, and destruction– that’s what they do. I mean spread love, peace, and understanding. We need more teach-ins and poetry readings. But most of all, we need participation. We need you and we need each other.