The study of history is so important in understanding the present and the possibilities of the future, that it is amazing how often it is ignored or misrepresented. Exhibit A in real time is the current controversy regarding mostly black athletes protesting discrimination and bias against black Americans at sporting events. The ensuing hue and cry reminds us that the Negro Problem is still a problem for too much of white America.
Frederick Douglass once wrote:
“There is no negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their own Constitution….”
And although those words were written over a century and a half ago, too much of America perceives that there is a Negro Problem, when the real problem has nothing to do with black Americans, and everything to do with the denial of promise of true freedom and the opportunity to freely prosper in these United States. And when President Trump or NFL Commissioner Goodell or NBA Commissioner Adam Silver or any number of white elected officials discourage and disparage black Americans for exercising their Constitutional rights, they totally miss the point in making these athletes the problem when this country is the real problem.
It is of no surprise that many Americans want to whitewash American history or simply crawl into a shell of denial, but the reality is that the United States was founded with the slavery of black men, women and children as a central aspect of its existence. The reality is that throughout the South it was legal to kill a black person and some would argue that this has not changed appreciably as we settle into the 21st century.
The flag that flies during the national anthem is the flag of a country that countenanced slavery, genocide, legalized segregation and discrimination, lynching and race-based institutional inequities that have lasted to this very moment. It is the flag of a country that is uncomfortably comfortable with over 1000 Confederate monuments scattered across this land like so many dragons’ teeth, even though each and every one of these hellish icons memorialize a war fought to maintain the enslavement of the forebears of the athletes who have the temerity and colossal nerve to kneel in protest of this sordid history and still too sordid present.
The question should not be about why black athletes – and black Americans generally – are protesting. The question should only be about why black Americans are not protesting more – and all the time. And it is sad and illustrative of the problem that there are white Americans who wear the American flag as underwear, head wraps and bathing suits, are offended that black Americans choose to protest in from of this flag. It is sad because these same white Americans are not offended by police brutality inflicted on innocent black civilians. They are not offended by high incarceration rates in the black community. And they are not offended by the overwhelming data that shows that race-based discrimination is the root cause of so many of the disparities in the national black community.
Indeed the controversy over these protests at sporting events shows how far this country still has to come in the long journey to achieve equity and racial equality. In the meantime, for white America to ask black Americans to stop protesting during the national anthem of this imperfect country is simply asking too much.