Sounding a Chorus of Courage
By Gwen McKinney
It’s football season again, and more than a year since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sparked a movement popularly dubbed as “taking the knee.”
If Kaepernick drew support – kneelers range from women soccer stars to high school marching bands to college cheerleaders – he also galvanized scorn. Distorting the protest movement, witness the jeers of white spectators, retribution by sponsors, and the audacity of the President of the United States urging to “get that son of a b- -ch off the field.”
Kaepernick’s courage cost him personally, as he pursues litigation against the National Football League (NFL) owners who have kept him out of the game.
That quiet stance of kneeling is far removed from an assault on patriotism or disrespect for the troops. Bodies poised at half-mast, hardly a radical demonstration, are a somber display of tragedy and national mourning.
Once again, the deep battle lines of the racial divide have been drawn.
Systemic oppression, mass incarceration and racial violence by the state are the impetus for the bow to one knee.
“There are bodies in the streets and people are getting paid leave and getting away with murder,” explained Kaepernick when asked why he launched his silent protest. As others joined, the body count would continue to mount.
Look no further than the data of police killings for last year. According to the Washington Post Fatal Force Tracker of 963 police killings, Black men were disproportionately victims, three times more likely to be killed. Only six percent of the population, they were 34 percent of the unarmed people fallen in police shootings.
And with only two months remaining in 2017, we are poised to almost repeat this grim toll.
Americans are visual. Imagery is captivating. Football is a national fixation. Athletes, artists and luminaries can stoke the interest and imagination of popular culture. This rich brew offers the ingredients for a national call to arms and a chorus of courage.
Where are these voices?
The NFL, with its 70 percent Black players, needs solidarity beyond the predictable ranks. Many of the players who joined him on bended knee could well be victims like the unnamed fatalities in the Fatal Force Tracker. While Black Lives Matters activists and legions of compatriots will continue to underscore the horror of police violence, they can’t win alone.
In all movements against mass oppression, the unexpected and seemingly unaffected are vital voices.
Abolitionists gained greater power from enlisting white southerners to provide shelter for the Underground Railroad. The suffragists gained strength from a small but decisive band of men. A U.S. fighting force not confronting Nazis occupation on their soil joined the beleaguered Europeans to win World War II.
Allies – removed, privileged and ostensibly with little to gain – are needed for the front lines against racist police violence. Whites must join this battle en masse.
Country music recording artist Meghan Linsey struck a blow for that principle in September when she dropped to one knee singing the Star-Spangled Banner. She used a nationally televised home game of the Tennessee Titans to affirm that people who look like her should step up and kneel down.
Treated to cheers and boos, Linsey insists it’s the silence that is more deafening.
“It needs to be white Americans who stand up in solidarity and say this isn’t right,” stressed Linsey. “I took a knee because every movement needs allies.”
“When you’re white, it’s easy to disregard racism and not see your own privilege. Instead, I wanted to use my privilege — and my platform — to shed a light on systemic racism and social injustice.”
Crooning the closing stanza of the National Anthem, Linsey’s simple act of courage spoke volumes. Ironically, she delayed her gesture to the final five words… the home of the brave. And then she kneeled.
We need a chorus of courage to kneel, to speak, to act. There are some. We need many more.
The author is the founder of a DC-based strategic communications firm focusing on social justice policies.