Why did another Black man have to die at the hands of the police for White Americans to understand that Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem had nothing to do with disrespecting the flag, the military, or the country? Why did it take us protesting, marching, and even looting and setting fires for the NFL to admit that they were wrong? Kaepernick’s taking a knee was his way of protesting the systematic oppression that Black people face every day. It was a form of peaceful protest meant to highlight police brutality and the injustices that occur all around us. Yet somehow, it was grossly misunderstood by White America, and no matter how many times it was explained he was still demonized. So much so that his successful career in the NFL ended. Even today, there is outrage at the sight of police officers kneeling in solidarity with protesters. Their jobs and union memberships threatened by the powers that be.
The answer is simple. Most White Americans are so far removed from our reality that they refuse to grasp the concept. How can one relate to systematic oppression when the system itself is set up for you and not against you? White Americans do not live with the fear of not knowing if they will make it home at the end of the day. They do not have to talk with their sons and daughters on how to act when they encounter the police to ensure their safe return home. They do not get nervous when a police car follows along behind them. For those who argue that White people have the same fears, it’s just not true and a bit insulting to be honest.
If they are selling their wares outside of a store, nobody is going to call the police. They can wear a black hoodie and go to the store for a bag of skittles. They can sleep peacefully in their beds at night without fear of being shot in their sleep. They go for jogs in their neighborhoods without incident or even birdwatch. Their lives are certainly valued at far greater than that of a 20-dollar bill. However, for Black people, none of these things is simple. The system is not set up in our favor, and our daily lives are filled with obstacles, trials, injustice, and fear.
Colin Kaepernick knew he had a huge platform and wanted to draw attention to the struggles Black people were facing. He wanted to shine a spotlight on police brutality and work to enact change. Nevertheless, White Americans were outraged at the sight of him kneeling, and when others started to join him, well, that was just too much. Enough was enough!
When will enough be enough for the senseless killing of Black people at the hands of the police? When will it be too much for Black people to be harassed or murdered in the streets for only going about our day? Where is the outrage over the death sentence Black people have been issued based solely on the color of our skin?
Over the last couple of weeks, the saying “no justice, no peace” has been all of our reality. Some white people worldwide have stood in solidarity with the Black community and spoke out against the injustices we face. Many have spoken about how they have lived blindly behind their white privilege and the need for change. It is my hope and prayer that their words become actions. That those actions become the change we need in the form of new laws, policies, and legislation. I pray that they not only make their voices heard at protests and marches but also at the polls in November.
I pray that when we kneel, they understand why and kneel beside us.
Paula J. Shelton is a freelance writer living in Chicago. Find her on social media @beboldshineon.