Can we take NFL player protests seriously coming from members who profit from but are silent about the NFL’s own perpetuation of racial stereotypes and racism?
It’s that time of year again, my favorite. College football and the NFL. Tonight is the season opener for the Washington Football team. Whatever your feelings are about the recent spate of NFL players protesting the National Anthem in the name of racial justice, the irony is not lost in Indian Country. Colin Kaepernick, and now other, highly paid NFL players are using their right to free speech to protest very real inequities based on race and social class in the United States. I think that is AWESOME! Predominantly African-American, these players not only belong to a league complicit in the perpetuation of racial stereotypes and racism, they have never publicly supported efforts to rename the racially insulting Re****ns to something less obviously offensive and degrading. Much has been written about the roots of this term, the historical meaning of it, and the effects of sanctioning such a term on the treatment of Native Americans. Maybe NFL players will now focus their efforts on the hand that feeds them, or on injustice in general. If they don’t, I am afraid that their protests are more for publicity or immaturity of thought regarding racial justice, rather than conviction.
I have previously written about the difference between Justice (for all) and Just-Us (just for my group). I have also previously pointed out that Native Americans are killed by law enforcement at a higher percentage than African Americans. I did this to point out that the quest for justice should not be based upon the loudest voices, but in the realities of their perpetration and impacts. Is it too much to ask for them to be principled in their protests? I think Kaepernick kind of gets this, as he has been careful not to be to ethno-centric in his tweets and public statements. Is it too much to ask these players to focus on their own backyard, too? I mean, do you know how quickly change would happen if the players would DEMAND the right thing for all people in their own organization? It is sadly ironic that the people protesting oppression are themselves complicit in maintaining such a deplorable and obviously racist practice.
Ironic as well, is the fact that Native Americans are very generous in their support. Living in DC, I see many protests. If the cause is good, I invariably see Natives supporting it, regardless of the ethnicity of the leaders of a particular movement. We have marched, sat, screamed, been beat and arrested for many causes led by African-Americans. And, we will continue to. Injustice is injustice regardless of skin color. We do so gladly, with conviction and a good heart. We do so regardless of the lack of reciprocation, or even a thank you. Native Americans do not have the luxury of being well represented on television, entertainment, sports, or politics. We do not have the luxury of having a daily platform to advocate for the injustices we face, despite the statistical fact that we have higher rates of poverty, disease, as well as higher rates of structurally supported institutionally racist practices across a wide spectrum of essential services from health care and housing to education and employment.
Rather than inclusion or support, it is quite common to hear (or not hear) pundits and celebrities who advocate for civil rights issues conveniently ignoring those worse off to gain political points, attention, and resources for their own groups (a “Just-Us mentality). Native America is slow to do this as it is not our nature. Another statistic of which few are aware is that Native Americans are much more likely to marry someone of another race (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/06/12/interracial-marriage-who-is-marrying-out/). As with borders and boundaries, Native Americans seem to have a difficult time recognizing arbitrary distinctions and ironic social constructions like race. Thus, we support causes because they are worth supporting (a Justice mentality). I, therefore, support Colin Kaepernick’s right to protest, but his reasons for doing so I am hesitant about. I wonder if he will support an issue that is so painful for us. We are, in the final analysis, all related (Mitakuye Oyasin).
You may be asking if I am drawing a moral equivalence between the sorts of racial injustices Kaepernick and his supporters are protesting, primarily the “widespread oppression and brutality carried out largely by the police against minorities” and the racist and degrading name of a football team. Well, a little. It has long been argued, in civil rights circles at least, that the language we use to dehumanize and objectify a people is not only complicit in justifying their mistreatment, it is causal. We know that Native Americans are oppressed. Statistically, we are often at the bottom of a very sad list of oppressive and deadly institutionalized maladies. But it isn’t a contest. Being at the bottom of these lists is not a good thing. Because it is OK to call us names, make jokes at our expense, and to depict us as exaggerated stereotypes, it is more OK for our children to be hungry, our young men to be shot and imprisoned, and our welfare to be generally ignored when discussing important issues within society.
I need only point to efforts to eliminate offensive practices such as blackface, the use of racial slurs like the “N” word, or the erroneous and degrading depictions of African-Americans in film and movies as an example of the importance of seemingly small things like naming an NFL team after the practice of trading the skins of human beings for a bounty.
Would we tolerate that in any other racial group? No. Does it encourage, or at least not discourage, insensitivity and poor treatment? Yes. The big issue has already reached consensus in our society. We are just not applying it equally.
The quiet crisis in Indian Country should be a call to the world around us to recognize that
those with soft, or no, voice can suffer as much or more than those who have one. And, those with less of a voice have a difficult time to find one in a world where they are largely invisible. A voice is of little use if there is no one to listen. So, we join our voices with others as we have always done. I ask NFL players to add their voices to ours and to act upon the principles they are presently espousing: Support the renaming of the Washington Football team. Further, do not tolerate it. It is wrong. It is, admittedly, a small step. But, it is a necessary one. It is an obvious one. Injustice towards one, is an injustice to all. Take a knee for Justice for all, and don’t forget about your own backyard.
Hope you all have a wonderful week! Hope you enjoyed the read! Mitakuye Oyasin!
Link below is another blog on the Washington Football team, racism, and experiences.