Kaepernick was the Catalyst
Racial Equality: A Conversation for All
The summer before sophomore year, my interest in the criminal justice system was sparked by a book my mom gave me, Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson. The book recounts Stevenson’s personal experience as a lawyer working in the Alabama criminal justice system in horrifying detail. He focuses specifically on the racial injustices dealt to younger men in the criminal justice system and truly did open my eyes to the truth about our country’s ugly history of racism that we can’t seem to shake. And for a lot of people, that racist past is incredibly hard to accept.
In order to acknowledge that race is part of our past, present, and future, it requires people to say America still has major problems. Institutionalized racism has recently been chronicled and further exposed in the documentary 13th produced by Netflix and directed by Ava Duvernay, the acclaimed director of Selma. The documentary interviews both Democratic and Republican political figures who all reach the same conclusion- America has not moved past its racist history. In fact, according to the Justice Department, 1 in 3 black men born today can expect to go to jail compared to only 1 in 17 white men. The black community makes up twelve percent of the United States’ population, but makes up a staggering forty percent of the prison population. This massive disparity is not due entirely to the fact that black people commit more crimes, as they are also more likely to face difficulties than white people at every level of the criminal justice system, from the arrest to conviction. These disparities and more are why athletes across the country are choosing to protest during the national anthem.
About this time last year, Colin Kaepernick was making headlines for sitting down during an NFL preseason game as a way to bring attention to the unjust killings of African-Americans by police, and to a larger extent to the institutionalized racism permeating the country. Shortly thereafter, many of his fellow players began joining in with protests of their own, with the Seattle Seahawks demonstrating as an entire team. Kaepernick has continued to make waves this summer during NFL free agency as other quarterbacks have been signed, and he remains unsigned. Protests have continued this season, with one noticeable difference, the involvement of white players. This season multiple white players have had their teammates backs when they protest, some are putting a hand on the shoulder, while others are kneeling in solidarity with their teammates. Regardless of their specific actions, the support of white players will hopefully let the conversation take a step forward.
Here at Green Hope a very large group of people will likely never have to deal with the discrimination the black community faces on a day-to-day basis. One of my teammates happens to be part of the 6% of Green Hope who are black. If my teammate ever happened to make the decision to kneel or raise his right fist, I would make sure my teammate felt supported not only by me, but hopefully by the rest of the team as well. While some people are firmly against any type of protest during the national anthem, but as Chris Long of the Philadelphia Eagles showed, the protest does not have to involve a raised fist or kneeling. Long put his hand on his teammate’s shoulder as a way to show him that he cared and he was supportive of the action he was making. This small action made huge waves in the media and will hopefully cause more conversation.
Having a meaningful conversation about race is essential, and high school athletes can make a big difference by showing unity and support for one another in the face of racial injustice because as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The United States will not survive if it continues to drive people apart because of systemic injustices that many of its minorities continue to endure. As Green Hope athletes, whose numbers make up an influential one-third of the school, we should make an active effort to demonstrate our solidarity, and propel this conversation forward.