Using the cover of darkness, white nationalists marched with weapons and flaming torches in Charlottesville, Virginia, this summer. A counter- protester was run down and killed and dozens were injured when a supremacist drove his car through a crowd. Many observers and politicians brushed them off as being a small, fringe group that stays mostly underground. Everyone was eager to move beyond the disturbing images from that weekend and debate the issues the nationalists had raised like the right to free speech, the value of historic monuments and pride in the Confederacy.
Let's contrast that to what's happening today. Last month the President of the United States denounced the professional football players who are opting to kneel during the playing of the National Anthem. This form of silent protest has been going on for some time among athletes, both black and white and in other sports, not just football. These people are choosing to use two-plus minutes per week to say "we're not sure this is the land of the free for everyone." After the last note of the anthem, they stand and play the game. They're doing it in front of hundreds of thousands of fans, under the glare of stadium lights with their names emblazoned on their jerseys—no flaming torches required.
I was saddened when acquaintances took to social media to heed the president's rallying cry last weekend after Trump called for the (insert expletive here) athletes to be fired and called for a boycott of the National Football League. With the flip of a switch, these players went from being viewed as talented, highly-trained athlete entertainers to "degenerates."
I don't remember any public figure suggesting that the torch-bearing protesters lose their jobs for exercising their First Amendment rights.
The leader of our country went on to brand them as being unpatriotic, and equated their choice to take a knee as an affront to the flag and veterans who've fought for this country. That's strange...I didn't hear those same claims following Charlottesville. When the swastika flag was hoisted high in Virginia, didn't that dishonor the men and women who died in World War II fighting the Nazi regime?
So what about the social justice issues these athletes have raised? From what I've seen the reaction has been dismissal—
"get over it" and "if you don't like it, leave."
Many scoff over a perceived racial divide in this country and I was probably of that view too but having witnessed recent events, my eyes have been opened. White people obviously feel threatened when minorities express themselves in even the simplest ways afforded by our Constitution. There's a lot of work to do if we truly believe this is the land "with liberty and justice for all."
Email Maria at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maria Brown joined the Tri-City Times staff in 2003, the same year she earned a bachelor's degree in English from Calvin College. Born and raised in Imlay City, she and her family reside in the Capac area where she enjoys gardening and reading.