After his grandson tweeted this photo of his grandfather kneeling in solidarity with NFL protests against racist police violence, John Middlemas, a white, 97-year-old World War II veteran, became an instant social media star. He said he wanted to join athletes who knelt in protest during the national anthem. Middlemas also had this to say:
It’s not disrespectful at all, it’s what I have learned to live and die for.
And he was not alone. Here is a nice montage of veterans posting on the hashtag #VeteransForKaepernick (via Washington Post).
[CONTENT WARNING: Commander Cheetohead makes his revolting appearance (video and voice) @ 0:35-53.]
Now I need to tread carefully here, as I do NOT want to erase or diminish the extraordinary sacrifices and commitment of veterans and activists of color. They are and always have been doing the lion’s share of anti-racist work, often at great cost to their own lives, livelihoods, families and communities. And the notorious White Savior narrative is actively harmful to people of color, as well as counterfactual and obnoxious. So I dearly hope someone will call me out mercilessly if I miss the mark here with what I’m about to say.
I’ve written before (and will undoubtedly have countless opportunities to repeat), racism is whites’ problem to solve. This is true in the same way that violent misogyny is men’s problem to solve—if women could end it, it would be fucking ended. By “racism is whites’ problem to solve” I do not mean that white individuals ought to envision themselves as the heroes making grand gestures or proclamations on behalf of people of color. It’s patronizing bullshit for one thing, and more importantly, it is not what people of color are telling us they need from white allies. Centering whites in the struggle to end racism is never okay.
What I mean by racism is whites’ problem to solve is that we whites need to own our shit, not just by recognizing the part we play in perpetuating the legacy of white supremacy, but by working to dismantle it among other whites.
All too often, our part consists of silence and inaction. That really fucking matters, and not just because white silence in the face of racist oppression is naturally perceived by both racists and people of color as indifference at best, and agreement with racist ideology at worst. It matters because racial biases are for the most part unconscious, and persist even (especially?) among thoughtful, well-meaning white people. As Dr. King reminded us:
I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.
When white veterans and active duty military members (and white sportsball players and coaches and team owners) publicly support these particular protests—which arise from and for people of color—it sends a powerful message to other whites: Your Racist Bullshit Will Not Be Tolerated. It is a necessary and critical step toward normalizing anti-racism in broader swaths of U.S. culture: it serves as a counter to pervasive messages of white supremacy to which we are all exposed, and thus influences the unconscious biases we absorb and hold as a result. And it accomplishes this without centering whites or whiteness.
Of course it is not realistic to expect that either systemic racism or openly racist individuals will vanish from the fabric of U.S. society any time soon (if ever). But what is possible is for whites to make the spaces we inhabit daily, online and in real life, unwelcoming for racist narratives. I’d even go so far to say that in this age of politically empowered and openly flaunted white supremacy, it is every decent white person’s patriotic duty (yeah I went there) to shut that shit down – hard. Whites making whites who perpetuate racism, knowingly or not, uncomfortable at the dinner table, the break room, the school, the ballgame and the neighborhood pub is the bare minimum it will take to move our entrenched culture of white supremacy in a positive direction.
The Twitter hashtag #VeteransForKaepernick, still going strong as of this writing, is a wondrous thing to witness. A small sampling:
Sure, there are some entries from ignorant Cheetohead minions who somehow confuse worshiping a piece of cloth and standing to sing a song at a sporting event with, you know, actual patriotism. But the responses from vets (and others) are swift and severe.
In the presence of the most subtly racist microaggressions and “jokes” to more explicit and violent expressions of white supremacy, white silence is nothing short of complicity. And let’s face it: we whites have a lot of work to do in these United States in 2017. We will get nowhere without doing it.
IRIS ♥︎ #VeteransForKaepernick.