Vice President Mike Pence, a white man who is preternaturally white, and President Donald Trump, a white man who is prematurely orange, spent more than $200,000 in taxpayers’ money to protest the right of black athletes to peacefully protest racial oppression and inequality.
In a stunt that Trump later tweeted was his idea, Pence and his wife/chaperone Karen “Mother” Pence flew to Indianapolis on Air Force Two to attend a National Football League game. As expected, more than a dozen black players knelt, rather than stand, during the pre-game national anthem as a way to call attention to systemic injustices to blacks in the United States.
Pence and his entourage walked out. He then issued a statement (scripted before the game) saying “President Trump and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our flag, or our national anthem.” Within hours, the Trump campaign carpet-bombed his support base with fundraising appeals that said,
… your Vice President REFUSED to dignify their disrespect for our anthem, our flag, and the many brave soldiers who have died for their freedoms.
Friend, I was so proud of the Vice President. But immediately after the Vice President’s honorable display of leadership and patriotism, the Fake News Media relentlessly ATTACKED him.
Please make a contribution of at least $5 to show your support, and our team will send you an ‘I STAND FOR THE FLAG’ sticker.
— Donald J. Trump
While Trump found it easy to assert that there were “some very fine people on both sides” when white supremacists, Ku Klux Klan members and neo-Nazis clashed with protesters in August in Charlottesville, the man who claims to have the best words was unable to find even a syllable to acknowledge the racial inequality issues that the black players are protesting.
This is the alabastardization of the protest … white people attempting to de-legitimize black people’s concerns, avoid talking about real issues behind the protests, and recast the protesters as disrespectful, unpatriotic, anti-Americans. Who just happen to be black.
Example: The Civil War was about states’ rights (not slavery).
Example: Donald Trump’s “birther” movement was about citizenship qualification to be president (not the fact that Obama is black).
Example: Voting restrictions in southern states are about preventing voter fraud (not preventing black people from voting).
And shame on the news media for megaphoning this alabastardization, and not calling out this obvious and dishonest redirection. It’s out of the same playbook Trump applied so effectively against the media itself. When they report truthfully on issues, or point out his failures, he attempts to de-legitimize the media and divert attention away from the discussions we ought to be having. Fake news! Dishonest media! Enemy of the American people!
The current protest by black athletes, as they’ve said from the start, is about systematic mistreatment of blacks and other nonwhites by the white majority.
Colin Kaepernick, then quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, started quietly sitting during the national anthem in August 2016. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said.
Eric Reid, another player, joined Kaepernick in protest. He said:
We spoke at length about many of the issues that face our community, including systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality and the criminal justice system. We also discussed how we could use our platform, provided to us by being professional athletes in the N.F.L., to speak for those who are voiceless.
After hours of careful consideration, and even a visit from Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret and former NFL player, we came to the conclusion that we should kneel, rather than sit, the next day during the anthem as a peaceful protest. We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.
Trump earlier said any “son of a bitch” player who refused to stand should be fired, and said that team owners (nearly all of whom are white) should force the ungrateful players to honor the flag. If the black players and their sympathetic teammates refuse to end their protest, Trump said, NFL fans (who are overwhelmingly white, according to NFL research) should boycott the game.
You know, sort of like a silent, nonviolent protest.
It seems nonviolent protests are approved by Trump and Pence when it’s white people and white supremacists protesting, and condemned by Trump and Pence when it’s black people or people of color protesting against racism.
The attempt by white people to silence the already silent black protesters is not new. It predates the American revolution. Almost 50 years ago, to call attention to racial injustice in the United States, Americans Tommie Smith (gold medal) and John Carlos (bronze medal ) stood silently, heads bowed, black-gloved fists in the air, as the national anthem played during the medals ceremony at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.
They were shoeless, and wore black socks to represent black poverty. They wore black gloves to represent black unity. Carlos wore beads to represent the “strange fruit” of lynched blacks hanging from trees; Smith a black scarf to represent black pride.
The New York Times reported:
Mexico City, Oct. 18–The United States Olympic Committee suspended Tommie Smith and John Carlos today for having used last Wednesday’s victory ceremony for the 200- meter dash at the Olympic Games as the vehicle for a black power demonstration.
The two Negro sprinters were told by Douglas F. Roby, the president of the committee, that they must leave the Olympic Village. Their credentials also were taken away, which made it mandatory for them to leave Mexico within 48 hours.
Carlos said years later, “I went up there as a dignified black man and said: ‘What’s going on is wrong.”
Smith said the protest “was a cry for freedom and for human rights. We had to be seen because we couldn’t be heard.”
Jackie Robinson, who in 1947 officially became the first black player in major league baseball, recalled shortly before his death in 1972:
There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. …The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. … As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.
As a reminder, nonviolent expression of free speech is specifically protected by the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States. Even burning the American flag in protest is protected, the Supreme Court ruled, as “symbolic speech.”
There is no law requiring people to stand for the national anthem. Sitting, kneeling, or otherwise silently protesting during the national anthem is a Constitutional right, and free speech is a core value of the United States. The flag is a symbol of those core values.
Many thousands of American soldiers have died defending those core values, fighting against regimes that deny their citizens the right to peaceably protest against the government.
The President, the Vice President, members of Congress, members of the armed services, and local and national law enforcement officials all take oaths to defend and uphold the principles of the Constitution.
So, who is disrespecting the flag and the values it stands for? It’s not the players.
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
The British historian Evelyn Beatrice Hall (1868-1956), writing under the name Stephen G. Tallentyre, wrote this powerful sentence in 1906 as an imagined statement that she said encapsulated the views of François-Marie Arouet, who was known as Voltaire, who never actually said it.