Reflecting on the Events in Charlottesville

As my readers know, Blind Injustice is a blog where I talk about injustices that some of us may be blind to or blindly commit. I have that focus because I feel that there are many forms of injustice that we are complacent to or downright commit without realizing.

However, given the events of the past few days, I think it’s important to somewhat divert from the focus of the blog and talk about a very visible and hateful incident (or set of incidents) of injustice. Namely, the events in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The events in Charlottesville demonstrate that there are still injustices which are very painful, overt, and visible to everyone except those committing the injustices and their supporters. Among those injustices on display were bigotry, white supremacy, and calls for ethnic cleansing.

While this blog hopefully exposes some of us to a number of blind injustices, I hope that we also don’t ignore very visible forms of injustice such as what was shown by white nationalists in Charlottesville. To the contrary, all of us must call out the white supremacist terrorism of last weekend for what it was, and denounce it for what it was.

Addressing Colin Kaepernick

I am going to start this post by doing something unusual—comparing the career and season statistics of two National Football League (NFL) quarterbacks. No worries, though, because this comparison serves a greater purpose…

Quarterback #1’s career statistics: Completion percentage of 58.4, 1.74 touchdowns for every interception he’s thrown, 86.1 quarterback rating.

Quarterback #2’s career statistics: Completion percentage of 59.8, 2.4 touchdowns for every interception he’s thrown, 88.9 quarterback rating.

Quarterback #1’s 2016 statistics: Completion percentage of 52.9, 1.36 touchdowns for every interception he threw, 75.8 quarterback rating.

Quarterback #2’s 2016 statistics: Completion percentage of 59.2, 4 touchdowns for every interception he threw, 90.7 quarterback rating.

Quarterback #1 is Cam Newton, who had a down year last year but was the 2015 Offensive MVP and is still viewed as one of the bright young stars of the NFL. Quarterback #2 is Colin Kaepernick, who is currently not on an NFL roster.

While I am sure other football fans can find statistics where Newton compares favorably to Kaepernick, the point of this comparison is not to say whether Cam Newton or Colin Kaepernick is a better quarterback. But the mere fact that the unemployed Kaepernick has statistics even comparable to a former NFL Offensive MVP should tell people one thing about the current state of Kaepernick’s career: his unemployment has nothing to do with football, and everything to do with the fact that many of us (myself included, at times) resent athletes who challenge our society’s status quo.

The most recent example of this is with Kaepernick. The former San Francisco 49ers player refused to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” last year, and is not on an NFL roster this year thus far.

However, this is far from the first time that an athlete faced severe consequences for challenging the societal status quo. Muhammad Ali, who was almost universally praised after his death last year, was reviled by many for his refusal to serve in Vietnam and his outspokenness on racial issues. Tommie Smith and John Carlos were forced to return the medals they won in the 1968 Olympics because of their Black Power salutes in a medal ceremony while “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played. And a big stir was made when Magic Johnson came out as being HIV-positive at a time when HIV/AIDS was still stigmatized, only to play in the 1992 National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star Game and the 1992 Olympics.

If one were to consider Kaepernick, not as an isolated incident, but within the greater history of activist athletes, the conclusion is that there is a resentment toward athletes who challenge the status quo. Such resentment has stayed strong, even though decades have changed.

To those who feel that resentment, I urge all of you to at least hear out Kaepernick, even if you don’t agree with him (myself included, as I didn’t agree with his not voting in 2016). I urge everyone to hear him out because, when athletes double up as activists, it is often for good reason and often produces positive results for our society. For example, Muhammad Ali’s outspokenness on racial issues positively contributed to the Civil Rights Movement, and Magic Johnson’s openness on testing HIV-positive started to remove the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS. It remains to be seen whether Kaepernick will make contributions as positive as those of people like Johnson and Ali, but given the fact that positive things can and often do happen when athletes double up as activists challenging the status quo, we should at least give him a chance.

Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick. By Mike Morbeck (Flickr: Colin Kaepernick) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Colin_Kaepernick_-_San_Francisco_vs_Green_Bay_2012.jpg

 

The Forgotten Injustice of the American National Anthem

On Independence Day next Tuesday, many Americans will bring out American flags, talk with pride about the nation’s heritage, and proudly belch out the American national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

I was especially proud to sing our national anthem in the years after 9/11, when I was too young to understand the full meaning of the song, but also old enough to realize that the song was to many people a symbol of defiance towards terrorists who tried to destroy the nation’s identity. But these days, I have trouble singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at all, let alone singing it in public.

Before people call me unpatriotic, just as many called NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick unpatriotic for his refusal to stand during the American national anthem, please hear me out. I too am a believer in “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” even if those ideals did not extend towards African Americans, Native Americans, women, immigrants, people in the LGBTQ+ community, and others for many decades after that phrase was first used. But the fact is that, if the United States of America wants to carry out a universal, inclusive, and just vision of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” our current national anthem is not a representation of such a vision.

In making this claim, I point to an oft-forgotten part of “The Star-Spangled Banner”—the third verse:

“And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

“No refuge could save the hireling and slave…from the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave.”

These two lines from the third verse make it sound like the author, Francis Scott Key, was celebrating the death of African American slaves.

To add historical context to the verse, African American slaves who fought for the British were offered freedom in the War of 1812. Hence, the British served as a “refuge” for slaves, since they seemed to offer slaves what they wanted—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

However, slaves fighting for the British did not give Francis Scott Key what he wanted, which was the preservation of the United States of America. Once the British-allied slaves got killed, on the other hand, the United States stood a greater chance of having a preserved country.

Between the lyrics and the historical context of the lyrics, it certainly seems like this portion of the song celebrates the death of slaves trying to free themselves from slavery. Since it celebrates enslaved death instead of freedom and life, the American national anthem is not a song that celebrates an inclusive, universal, and just version of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Many of us forget about the injustice of the song (the third verse in particular) because we only sing the first verse. However, we should not let ourselves forget about any part of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” This song refused to extend the vision of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” towards a whole group of people (slaves, particularly slaves fighting for the British), and everyone who sings this song should be mindful of that fact.

Addressing Silence on Black Lives

I am not the sort of person who likes to write blog posts, or anything, at the last minute. However, the recent death and burial of Richard Collins III, an African American student at Bowie State University in Maryland, moved me to write this blog post. I decided that it would be wrong for me or others to ignore this tragedy and be silent on it, even if it means writing a blog post which may be slightly disorganized this week.

It is especially wrong for me to ignore this tragedy because it exposes an injustice that needs to be addressed—the fact that, in even the best-case scenario, many of us are silent or say “thoughts and prayers” about these tragedies against African Americans.

This statement may come across to some as an overly emotional response to a recent tragedy that in some ways hits close to home for me; since I have friends who are in Army ROTC or have been commissioned in the last couple of years, they may’ve served with Collins III if he lived. However, if people look at the pattern of reactions after the killings of African Americans, maybe all of you will understand my thoughts.

With many shootings against African Americans, such as Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, and many others, the reaction from numerous people (especially when law enforcement or neighborhood watchmen are involved, like in these three cases) tends to be one of pointing out the wrongdoings of the victims and celebrating “justice” when the people who took away these lives are declared “innocent.” I put innocent and justice in quotes because there is nothing innocent about killing someone, and because there is no justice in declaring the “innocence” of someone who took away a life that should still exist.

That being said, what is especially troubling is that, even when the lives of outstanding African Americans are taken away, there are a few prayers and condolences at best, and silence at worst. There were prayers and condolences after the tragic shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, but other than a short period of prayers and condolences, most attention was turned to other issues. The police officer killing of high school student Jordan Edwards in Texas last month got relatively little attention, even though Edwards was an excellent student and athlete. And the case of Richard Collins III, an outstanding student and recently commissioned Second Lieutenant in the United States Army who was killed by an alt-right nationalist, was also met with relative silence.

Admittedly, I was one of the silent ones, as I didn’t make a post on social media about Edwards or Collins III. But silence on the killings of people like these does not end violence against innocent African Americans, or even violence against African Americans who did not commit offenses that were deserving of death. However, the killings of African Americans, and the relative lack of outrage over these killings, gives life to Black Lives Matter’s rallying cry of “white silence is violence,” whether we realize it or not.

The Problems with “Racial Colorblindness”

Maybe there is an irony that my first serious post with “Blind Injustice” has the word “colorblind” in the title.

Though when we think about what it means to be racially colorblind, and how racial colorblindness is an oft-discussed topic, maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Colorblind ideology seems good to some, on the surface. It was an especially appealing idea to me a few years ago because it seemed to reflect the idea that, if we ignore racial differences, we would no longer treat people with other skin colors differently.

However, through friends, life experiences, and reading over the past few years, I noticed some problems with racial colorblindness that all of us should be aware of:

  1. Being colorblind means that we are blind to how people are created. People are created with various skin colors, and denying that through racial colorblindness does not seem like a way of acknowledging, let alone giving glory to, the way each of us were created.
  2. If we take pride in colorblindness, then we will not be taking pride in the diversity of ways we were all created. It is pretty awesome that the skin of human beings was created in so many different ways! Through racial colorblindness, we would not appreciate the diversity of ways in which we were created.
  3. Colorblindness means that we don’t see ourselves and others for who we are. Skin color is a part of who every one of us is, so saying that we don’t see color means that we don’t see ourselves and others for who we are. In other words, the phrase of “I don’t see color…I just see people” is not really accurate because by not seeing color, we’re not seeing the complete person. Such views can actually be hurtful to ourselves and others, even if our intentions were ones of nondiscrimination.
  4. Colorblindness also means that we are blind to how skin color has a factor in what happens around us. In particular, colorblindness can help us ignore the critical role that skin color plays in injustices such as police brutality, housing, economic inequality, inequality of public services, and more. Consequently, colorblindness keeps us from getting to the root of many problems, let alone solving the problems (and in the process keeping forms of racial injustice alive and well).
  5. Colorblindness also blinds us to the ways that we might discriminate against people with different skin colors. I know this point goes contrary to the thinking that being blind to skin color is the way to treat all people equally. I also know that this point will lead people to the “But I’m not racist!” reaction. However, the messy truth is that if we remove our own defensiveness and colorblindness, maybe we’d find ways that skin color plays a role in how some of us might contribute to school segregation (yes, modern-day school segregation exists), housing inequality, financial inequality, racial stereotypes, or some other form of racial injustice.

This is admittedly not a perfect or complete list. However, this list shows how colorblindness takes away from the beauties of having different skin colors, and at the same time fails to acknowledge the role that skin color plays in the challenges we face.

By removing colorblindness, we can appreciate people for how we were created, hopefully embrace the diversity of ways we were created, and recognize the problems that exist because people with different skin color are still treated in different ways. This removal of colorblindness may not solve all our problems with racial injustice, but hopefully it can at least make us aware of the root of racial problems.