Some people have questioned whether these NFL players have any right to feel oppressed, when they are living the good life with money and fame and royal treatment. I have never been a black man. My only experience is one of a white girl and later a white woman, so I don't know what a black man should or should not feel. Here are some things I do know.
I do know that my friend wasn't allowed to go to another friend's birthday party in the third grade because that friend was black. I did nothing.
I do know that white girls in high school said their parents would kill them if they dated a black boy. I did nothing.
I do know friends who have used the N word, either in song or joke or conversation. I did nothing.
I've had friends who've said someone was attractive "for a black guy". I did nothing.
I do know that I've heard people tell jokes about black men being unable to provide for their families. I did nothing.
I do know that I've heard people tell jokes about black women having so many children they had to call them by their last names. I did nothing.
I do know people who have suggested that black people are like animals because they saw a protest turn violent. I did nothing.
I do know friends who've said "well, was he black?" in reference to a story about someone's poor choices or questionable behavior. I did nothing.
I do know I've heard people refer to things as "ghetto" when they mean black. I did nothing.
I do know my grandmother would hold her purse tighter if a black man were walking toward her. I did nothing.
I do know that a realtor told us in college that we wouldn't want to live in a certain neighborhood because it was "getting darker". I did nothing.
I do know that my grandmother told her hospice nurse that she was pretty "even if you're black". I said nothing.
I have always had black friends, but when I was in graduate school I became close friends with all the black girls in my program. We had many conversations about race. They asked me once to tell them the jokes that white people say about black people. A heaviness hung in the air. I didn't want to do it, but I couldn't deny that these jokes existed. I couldn't deny the way that people talked about them only because of the color of their skin. At my best, I may have spoken out against some of these things. At my worst, I laughed along, or even contributed. It pains me to acknowledge this truth, but this movement is not about my pain.
I would like to think that if I'd been alive during the civil rights era, I would have been on the right side of history. I'd like to think that I would have marched and I would have protested and I would have helped the cause. But sadly my history shows that if I can't be bothered to speak out against a casual joke, I probably wouldn't have been a participant in any formal activism. Maybe I would've watched from the sidelines.
I would like to think that I am not racist. But every statement above came from someone else who also doesn't think they're racist. At my core I do not believe that black people are any different from white people, but if I'm honest we know I have a lifetime of experience that has subtly and overtly told me that I am more valued. I hang my head at the sadness of this truth and I try to do better and teach my kids better.
It occurs to me that if I can't or won't or don't know how to help, I should at least move out of the way. So while you kneel in peaceful opposition to oppression, I will do nothing. I will do nothing to get in your way. I will do nothing to criticize you. I will do nothing to assume that I know what it feels like to be a person of color in this country. I will do nothing that implies I've earned the right to be a part of this conversation. I will do nothing to oppose the idea that I am part of the problem, and part of what you are protesting. I will do nothing to suggest that this is remotely about me or my feelings or my comfort. I will do nothing to interrupt or interfere. I will do nothing but listen and learn and try to do better. It is the least I can do.