Joining a Protest is Not a Comfortable Thing


Travis Hairgrove, Editor

For over six weeks now, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the Star Spangled Banner before games in protest of “a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” has stoked the flames of many a social media flame war. Three weeks later, after the tragic shooting of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man in Tulsa, Okla., the “take a knee” movement and the controversy surrounding it intensified dramatically.

On a personal level, the shootings of Crutcher and Philando Castile (an African American license to carry holder who was shot and killed by a police officer in front of his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter while reaching for his driver’s license and registration), in particular, both really made me think deeply about the still unresolved racial issues going on in America today. And, the more I thought about it, the more I felt like, maybe, Kaepernick has the right idea – a nonviolent protest to make a powerful statement about institutional racism and prejudice.

I admit that I feel a lot of cognitive dissonance when it comes to not paying our country, its flag and our national anthem “proper” respect, and when I made the decision to join the movement by remaining seated at the last few athletic events here at A&M-Commerce, it actually made my stomach turn. I love my country, warts and all, and I admire people who believe enough in something bigger than themselves that they serve in our military. However, at the same time, I also think we need to stop looking the other way and making excuses when it comes to acknowledging the work we still have left to do in regard to institutionalized racism.

When Cornel West came and spoke at our university about the ongoing struggles in the battle for equality, I really like how he emphasized the importance of changing hearts and minds. I think this is key to improving race relations in this country, because so much of the reason why things don’t change, in terms of policy, is because not enough people want it to change.

As a white, middle class, American male, I have a lot of privilege working in my favor, and I’m sure it blinds me, to a large degree, to injustices experienced by others. But, I have had a few experiences that gave me a “glimpse” or a “taste” of what people who belong to marginalized groups go through. The most eye-opening of these experiences was the first time I dated a black woman.

What I noticed, was that when I’d run into or meet with white friends and acquaintances with her, more often than not, they’d treat me in a way that I can only describe as “cold.” A lot of times they would avoid eye contact, and they’d be “shorter” in their speech, like they were trying to get through the conversation as quickly as possible. Even though the behavior wasn’t overtly hostile (and there’s a chance they weren’t even aware they were doing it), I could feel myself getting aggravated by their dismissive manner. Then I thought, “Wow. If this is what it’s like being a white male in a romantic relationship with a black woman, then I can’t even imagine what it would be like if I, myself, were black, and my ‘blackness’ was always with me, 24/7.” Ever since that realization, I’ve tried very hard to resist the learned reflex of “taking defensive positions” whenever an issue or discussion of race, bigotry or inequality comes up.

As far as what I’d like to see since joining the “take a knee” movement, first and foremost, it would be for people to listen to each other when matters of race or religion come up before they judge or take action. Yes, the police have been taking a lot of heat lately, and understandably so, because when a police officer makes an error in judgment, it can have especially heartbreaking consequences. But, the culture of institutional racism is a much bigger, more deeply seated problem than that, because it’s something that we’ve all, almost certainly, been guilty of contributing to, whether it’s through conscious discrimination, prejudices, apathy or moral cowardice.

Is not standing to honor our flag and country offensive? To me, it is…but not as offensive as being complicit in institutional racism. I don’t think it’s right to use nationalistic pride as a blindfold to block out our view of injustice.