The Q&A sessions during my speaking tours are always enlightening. Sometimes the most thought-provoking comments come from students!
That was the case at Blessed Trinity High School in Roswell, Georgia. A student at the predominantly white, upper middle-class school asked, “As a veteran, how do you feel about Colin Kaepernick’s protest?” Surprisingly, that was the first time anyone, not a person of color, asked me about Mr. Kaepernick’s controversial stance. I could only assume it was a very uncomfortable question for a non-black to pose. Her inquiry was met with a chorus of grunts and “ahhhs,” as her classmates reacted with an expected degree of shock, and tentative curiosity. I really admire the boldness of this generation; in that instance, I became acutely aware of the deafening silence, and it did not go unnoticed that all eyes were on me. I was ready, though. I had pondered that question long before the young lady asked. Basically, I told them it does not matter what I think. As a veteran, I fought to protect the 1st Amendment Rights of all Americans, regardless of why they are taking a particular position, political or otherwise. I allowed her an opportunity to reply or challenge my answer because I never want to leave room for misunderstanding. At first, she appeared and prepared to challenge my opinion. Her enthusiasm in that regard soon dissipated. She had no retort.
There really is no refuting the reality. We, as Americans, are all entitled to equal protection with regard to the Constitution. No subtext of the laws therein states, “unless your opinion does not align with my beliefs or that of others.” In a 1906 biography about Voltaire, Evelyn Beatrice Hall summarized part of the French historian and writer’s thinking on free speech with this paraphrased statement: “I don’t agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” If we accepted this train of thought, our society would be more peaceful. For my part, I maintain unapologetically, that I don’t have to agree with why you’re upset or protesting, but I will uphold your right to be as you are.
D.L. Hughley, the well-known comic, actor, writer, and radio personality has never been one to shy away from the hostility his criticism attracts. Not even when he defended the remarks of the late Don Imus, the shock jock who infamously referred to the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hoes,” right after the team won their National Championship in 2007. Hughley’s position aligns with my previous observation: “I don’t like or agree with what he said, but if I want to have the right of free speech, I have to defend his too.”
We can’t change the rules to fit those we like or agree with.
I tend not to focus on racism as the first cause of any problem, but it’s safe to say the rules of America appear to, shall we say, fluctuate. My belief is, we are not so much separated by race or ethnicity anymore. Privileges that used to be determined by the color of one’s skin has are now being decided by the color of money—The great divide is one of haves and have nots. For instance, if someone takes the life of another human being, the charges for that act can range from involuntary manslaughter to first-degree murder. How one is charged is often tied to the kind of representation they can afford. A private defense attorney has more resources at his or her disposal than a court-appointed defense attorney. One’s level of means (or wealth) determines which one the accused will have on their side in court. Bear in mind, it is not just about what you did as much as what can be proven in a court of law. It’s complicated. Lines can blur. There is a gray area that, if the right, costly, high-powered defense team is secured, can be influenced.
While we are on this topic, let’s elevate this conversation about double standards (well, it’s actually blatant hypocrisy, but I digress.) While Mr. Kaepernick’s “peaceful” protest –a simple act of kneeling to protest what he (and many others) believe is the unjust treatment black people by police- divided the country, recent protests against state-ordered “stay-at-home” orders are encouraged, supported, in some cases lauded and applauded! Recall, President Donald J. Trump labeled Kaepernick among the “sons of bitches” disrupting the fabric of the nation and destroying the integrity of a much-loved (and powerfully influential) national pastime. The Commander in Chief remained conspicuously silent as armed protesters stormed the steps of Michigan’s Capital, reserving condemnation of the potentially violent gatherings –and going so far as to refer to the protestors as “good people.”
Good people. Holding guns, rifles, and waving confederate flags and flashing swastikas. Think long and hard about this. Colin kneeled. Protesters are brandishing weapons and threatening insurgence. Tensions are so high, a Michigan lawmaker returned to the state Capitol with an armed security detail following one of the coronavirus lockdown protests attended by white supremacists and militia groups.
Yet, all Colin did was kneel.
The stark difference in the acts of protests is jarringly obvious. The disparate reaction to both is disturbing. But, it the current state of the society we live in, whether you choose to see or not.
A few weeks ago, we were all so “united” in the fight (and fear) of a common enemy, COVID-19. Well, unless you joined the conspiracy theorists who called a pandemic that claimed the lives of millions worldwide a hoax but…
We honored the heroes among us, sacrificing so much to keep cities and states functioning, the so-called essential workers. We went out of our way to sing the praises (deservedly) of frontline medical personnel. Today, for the entitled masses, these one-time heroes are now enemies of the state; complicit in a war that—the horror—keeps folks from getting a haircut, bikini wax, and a manicure. Make me understand the sea change, the flawed reasoning. Don’t bother, you will never convince me this is acceptable.
I won’t call it flat out racism. In fact, I will leave you, the reader, to draw your own conclusion. My late grandfather, a man I admired and a respected jurist, would remind us that in every situation where people gather for the purpose of wrongdoing, look to the top. Look to the leadership. A snakes body will only go where the head takes it.
I will leave you with this. For years, anytime an unarmed Black man has faced police brutality, critics cry out, “Respect the law; comply!” That is usually followed by, “If you act that way, of course, the police will show you who’s boss.” Now, I am a huge advocate of accountability. I am an even bigger proponent that the onus of such responsibility must be applied to people on both sides of an issue. Accountability should be void of color, religion, position, or socio-economic restrictions. If you are wrong, you are wrong. In many cases of police brutality, we have only to go to the videotape (Thank God for Facebook, camera phones, and in some cases, body cams) to discover where a complete lack of responsibility (and indifference to lives of people of color) lies. One can try to mask bad behavior as a reaction to a perceived act of criminality; that is the easiest way to justify throwing the rules of law out the window. Herein lies an ugly irony. The aggressor (law enforcement) fears for his or her life, and that is perfectly okay! The men (and sometimes women) they set upon are vilified when they claim any level of trepidation (usually while being pummeled). Sitting in a car, jogging in a park, sitting in your own home watching television, have been identified as behavior so dangerous, it cost the “offenders” their lives. Shooting a man in the back and joking about his family needing a “closed casket” is what, par for the course?
“Blue Lives Matter” activists are pretty quiet these days. I wonder why.
The hypocrisy makes the events complicated, and disheartening!