YWCA Southeast Wisconsin
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July 2017

By Martha Barry, PhD, Racial Justice Director, YWCA Southeast Wisconsin 

Addressing it

Colin Kaepernick. You may know him. You may like him. You may not. He is a 29-year-old black man, an NFL quarterback who was a starter for the San Francisco 49ers beginning mid-season 2012. He achieved notoriety in 2016 when he “took a knee” during the national anthem. Today, he’s in the news as he, a free agent, waits to see if an NFL team will sign him.

Colin is clear he hates injustice, oppression and police brutality. He has taken a knee at numerous games in solidarity with people facing discrimination, hatred, bigotry and violence. He is also a hard-working athlete who wants to play football.

No NFL team has selected him. He may be too much to handle for a team and its fans. Our bias may include here’s another “dumb jock” taking a knee to detract from his lackluster performance. The counter to that narrative is that even if this black man decides to “play by the rules”, it will likely not be enough to assuage us. He will be a constant reminder of injustice. Racism. Oppression.

We know that racism keeps race-based prejudice and power in the hands of white structures. It is not simply the racial epithets, jokes and slurs of individual bad actors, the deeply painful reminders of the hatred we hold toward people of the global majority. Racism is not simply lodged in our hearts and minds; it is deeply embedded in the institutions and structures of our society.

Colin’s predicament is a good example of the differential consequences for black “bad actors” in the NFL and their white counterparts. Is it a coincidence that Ben Roethlisberger, white veteran QB for the Steelers was twice accused of rape with few (if any) apparent consequences? There are examples in other sports and on other stages. Shouldn’t we notice them and question our reactions to them?

These are challenging times.

We invite you not to go numb or check out. We invite you to listen to one another. In hearing another’s pain, we are humanized. In reading about injustice, racism, bigotry and hatred, we learn to ask questions, dig for understanding and build our knowledge. We invite you to analyze what you read and hear. Don’t be complacent. Speak up. Injustice persists when we are silent. Your voice matters. Decide to be a force against racism.