Few things rankle me more than naked hypocrisy and empty gestures.
That's the situation happening in Tennessee.
All Republican members of the state senate as well as the lieutenant governor signed a letter sent to the heads of all of the state's public universities and colleges this week, encouraging them to "adopt policies within your respective athletic departments to prohibit any such actions moving forward" after members of the East Tennessee State men's basketball team kneeled during the anthem last week.
ETSU coach Jason Shay and school president Brian Noland have both publicly said what hundreds of athletes who have kneeled in recent years have said: the silent, peaceful gesture by players was meant to spark discussion about racial inequality, and not to disrespect the American flag or military.
The Tennessee legislators had the gall to mention "the ideals upon this great country was founded: that all are created equal and and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
Black Americans by and large don't get those things. That's why the protesting persists.
Are Black Nashville residents receiving the "unalienable right" of life when a 2020 survey of metro-area shows that your ZIP code could lead to a six-year decrease in your life expectancy, or are five times more likely to feel that they've been discriminated against by medical professionals than white patients?
Are the youngest non-white residents of Shelby County, the most populous in your state, enjoying their "right to happiness" when as of 2018, 45 percent of Black children and 49 percent of Latino children were living in poverty?
Are Black Tennesseans receiving their "unalienable right" to liberty when they are incarcerated at nearly four times the rate of white peers and that in a state where 17 percent of the population is Black, 40 percent of prisoners are African American?
Where's your letter about how "offensive and disrespectful" that is, state senators? Has it ever, for even one moment, occurred to you that perhaps if you, maybe even just a little bit, tried to fix these gross disparities that these athletes wouldn't feel that they had to kneel? Isn't that why you're there in the State Capitol, which irony of all ironies, is on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.?
Dr. King encouraged non-violent protest. That's what these athletes are doing when they kneel.
The letter also trotted out the now-familiar "they can protest on their own time" trope. That's a fallacy as well. Sure, they can protest on their own time. But if history is a guide, they'd be painted as thugs or rioters and met with police in full armored gear to make sure they "know their place."
Which, time and again, we're reminded by others isn't here. Even though many Black Americans can trace their lineage on these lands back hundreds of years, to the fields their ancestors worked for free under constant threat of violence, whenever we have the temerity to demand what's promised in this country's founding documents we're met with suggestions that we "leave" as though we're squatters and not builders.
If you're so concerned about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, letting these young people peacefully express themselves — something that as of six months ago 56 percent of Americans agree with — supports that aim. If you're so concerned about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, doing something to address the racial inequities in your state might actually eliminate the desire to kneel at all.
Or you could keep spending your time writing empty letters that simply expose you as hypocrites who'd prefer that Black athletes shut up and dribble.
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