September 25, 2017

Do unto others.

When I was a kid, my mom used to say, “Do unto others as you’d have them do to you.” Basically, treat people the way you want to be treated.

I always wanted to be treated with dignity and respect. There are countless Americans who aren’t treated with either. Many of them are people of color, who were born into a country that claims 'all men are created equal' but proves from Moment One that that’s not the case.

Over a year ago, Colin Kaepernick sat during the national anthem and inadvertently started an uproar that continues to this day. This weekend, the President of the United States focused not on hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico but on a desire to punish any athletes who don’t conform to his related viewpoints on national anthem responsiveness.

Colin Kaepernick is a black man who is being blackballed by his sport for sharing his views on society. If you exist in or engage with modern-day culture, his views are not unique. But no one has laid them out on this sort of stage quite like Kaepernick, and no one has stuck to them with his level of fervor.

And for this, he suffers. Only now, thanks to the president’s ramblings, he has an army by his side. A brotherhood of athletes, black and white, who are tired of having their life stories dictated by others. Who are tired of being told to stay in their lanes when they can finally explain why the world they’ve conquered isn’t the one future generations should have to face.

Do unto others as you’d have them do to you. All Kaepernick has ever asked is for us to consider his viewpoint. He’s asking the many Americans who can’t understand kneeling for the national anthem to pause, for a brief moment, and ask why others might.

It’s not because those who kneel dislike this country; it’s not because they are disrespecting the flag. It’s because, for years and years, no one asked for an athlete’s opinion. Everyone told them to get a job; when they got one—a major one—they said, “Be happy you have it.”

When the athletes finally spoke up, people said, “Stick to sports.” But in 2015, the NBA was 74% black. According to VICE, 70% of NFL players are black. These leagues frighten people because they no longer represent what many consider ‘typical’ Americans; they largely represent the 12% of black or African American citizens who’ve dealt with racial profiling and societal pressures that many of us cannot imagine.

And though our current media landscape is beset with endless podiums for people who shouldn’t have access to whistles, let alone megaphones, one of its true pleasures is direct access to the Colin Kaepernicks of the universe. He and his peers shouldn’t have to be filtered through ESPN or Sports Illustrated; if LeBron James thinks the president is a bum, he should fucking say it. And he did.

James Baldwin once said, "I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually." That’s the most wonderful quote of all time, and anyone who misunderstands Baldwin’s sentiment misunderstands what it means to be American.

If you are criticizing Colin Kaepernick, or Stephen Curry, or LeBron James, or the countless NFL players who kneeled on Sunday in recognition of their First Amendment right to peaceful protest, you misunderstand America. But that won’t surprise Kaepernick or any athletes of color or otherwise who spoke out this weekend; they kneel specifically because you don’t understand.

If we took time—literally, the briefest moment—to place ourselves in the shoes of black and brown men and women being discriminated against, of gay men and women who only wish to love each other in peace, of anyone disenfranchised who seeks just the bare necessities to survive, the world would be a remarkably better place. If we took my mother’s advice and treated others like we'd want to be treated, there’d be no need for Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling. But until that magical day comes, he’s going to kneel, and you’re going to hear about it.

And if you don’t get it, well, that’s pretty much the point.

January 22, 2017

What we're marching for.

This weekend's Women's March, in Washington, DC, and hundreds of other cities worldwide, had no defined purpose. It wasn't meant to challenge specific legislation. It wasn't in response to a tragedy, like the Movement for Black Lives protests that began after Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, Missouri.

But it had a target in its sights: President Donald Trump. And, given the millions of people who gathered to voice their opposition and release some of the tension that's been building since November, it was beyond necessary.

Nominally, this was a march for women. And in retrospect, that was a far more beneficial theme than "fuck Trump." Though many attending did echo that particular sentiment, loud and proud, it was about more than him.

Because Donald Trump has certainly touched a nerve: millions of people feel removed from the processes that keep this country running. Economically, politically; they can't find their footing as a current of someone else's making threatens to wash away everything they hold dear.

They're right; the United States belongs to the rich, the wealthy, the powerful. But the man who now leads a supposed charge against that system—a man who has nominated the richest cabinet in American history—has shown no real predilection for change. In fact, he's already making moves to hinder those in need.

And all those votes for Hillary Clinton weren't necessarily votes for the status quo; for many, they were votes for incremental-yet-genuine social progress, or votes against the fear and hate preached by her opponent.

Well, Hillary Clinton is gone now. She did not attend the Women's March; her time has past. And as such, the people are now untethered. It's no longer about support for a flawed, unpopular presidential candidate; it's women, men, everyone, in support of themselves and their neighbors, standing up for the rights they believe in. This was a reminder that, while the people may not have the power now, they can take it back.

I was lucky enough to attend the DC march; as we approached the National Mall at 7th Street and Constitution Avenue NW, a bevy of pussy hats, loud chants, and excited ladies filled the streets that were strikingly empty during Friday's inauguration parade. It was impossible to make your way to the actual march route; there was a sense of controlled confusion, that we were in the right place but uncertain about what came next.

At first, it was a little frightening; anything could happen in that big of a crowd, especially if someone who disagreed with the march's message wanted to spark chaos. But as we moved through the throngs of humanity, listened to the rolling cheers that would spontaneously emerge every few minutes, took in all the handmade signs, and saw the excitement—and concern, and passion—on people's faces, lingering fear turned into a sense of belonging.

This did not feel like a day where trouble lurked on the horizon. It didn't matter if we were marching on the "official" route, or that there was an official route at all. The march's organizers, and the no-longer-looming threat of a Donald Trump presidency, had gotten us here; now it was time to be loud, gain strength, and turn all this energy into something real.

Unfortunately, not all marches and protests go this smoothly. It's telling that this march for women, attended by many white people, proved peaceful while so many marches led by people of color end in police interference, mistreatment of protesters, and unnecessary arrests.

But, as one woman's sign proudly exclaimed, "We all belong. We will defend each other." That's a bold sentiment to voice in America, one we haven't often lived up to. This time, we'll need to. When the current administration enacts policies that hurt black and Hispanic people, white people need to show up. When women are impacted, men need to be there.

By all indications, this will be a rocky four years for anyone who supports equality and intolerance; yesterday's march was proof that we can gather to oppose policies that cripple honest, hard-working Americans of all colors and genders. What we'll have to prove, present company included, is that we will.