Rehumanize yourself

tommiesmithweb7s-1-web.jpgNow that football players have come to the realization that they are not robots run by the NFL, the nation has been grappling with what it means not to stand during the National Anthem or recite the Pledge of Allegiance by rote habit.

I empathize with Colin Kaepernick, just as I empathized all those years ago when John Carlos and Tommie Smith stood on the Olympic podium with fists raised in black gloves. They had a reason then to be disgusted with how black citizens are treated in the United States. Those reasons are still alive today.

As a track and field athlete in college, I often roomed with black teammates. It would seem we had little in common on the surface. One runner named Ron lived in Chicago’s housing projects. He was a quiet young man who had the courage to come west and attend a principally white liberal arts college in Northeast Iowa. He’s gone on to good things in life, but it was not a comfortable journey being yanked from home into the lily white world of the Iowa cornfields.

The year after I graduated from college, I worked admissions and visited dozens of inner city schools. Explaining to those kids where the college was located was difficult at times. Their lives were largely confined to the city of Chicago. What good reason could there be to leave and attend college where you would be a painfully obvious minority.

I remember well the initially cool treatment we received when a black assistant track coach and I visited the family of a young black woman on Chicago’s far South Side. The discussion went well, and when we made ready to leave, handshakes and smiles were exchanged. As my friend and associate Aubrey Taylor and I walked down the sidewalk, I paused to ask him how it went. “Keep walking,” he instructed me. “Follow me to the car and get in,” he insisted.

We drove away and he explained himself. “It went very well. But you don’t stop to discuss things where that family can see you. They need to trust that you were happy enough with our meeting. If you stop and talk it’s like keeping secrets from them.”

That was a life lesson that has never been lost on me. I do recall noticing the mother and father at the door as we left. Aubrey astutely knew that their trust was a major factor in the preceding exchange of ideas and the recruitment going on. That young woman later attended Luther College. But the credit all goes to Aubrey.

So we must ask: how is that level of trust at work in the rest of America? Can black citizens truly trust white people to their word and their promises? Are there still people who view blacks or Latinos as less than equal?

The question itself seems absurd on its own, and that’s the problem. That’s why Colin Kaepernick is kneeling before games while the National Anthem is being played or sung. The continual presence of racism in this country defies the very symbolism of the flag and the National Anthem.

So perhaps instead of the National Anthem we should all stand and sing along to a song titled Rehumanize Yourself by the Police.

Read these lyrics and consider what they say about the current state of our nation.

He goes out at night with his big boots on
None of his friends know right from wrong
They kick a boy to death ’cause he don’t belong
You’ve got to humanize yourself

A policeman put on his uniform
He’d like to have a gun just to keep him warm
Because violence here is a social norm
You’ve got to humanize yourself

Re-humanize yourself
Re-humanize yourself
Re-humanize yourself
Re-humanize yourself

I work all day at the factory
I’m building a machine that’s not for me
There must be a reason that I can’t see
You’ve got to humanize yourself

Billy’s joined the National Front
He always was a little runt
He’s got his hand in the air with the other cunts
You’ve got to humanize yourself

Re-humanize yourself
Re-humanize yourself
Re-humanize yourself
Re-humanize yourself

That’s what all the protest is about. America is in a massive process of dehumanizing other people.

The fact that the protest against that dehumanization got its start in one of the most dehumanizing sports known to the human race, pro football, is no coincidence. We don’t see the faces of those athletes much in those NFL broadcasts. Players are traded like meat from team to team and Fantasy Football leagues reduce those same men to mere statistics. It’s all dehumanizing.

Appearances often deceive. With black athletes dominating many pro sports and earning millions of dollars, it would seem that racism in America has all but disappeared. Yet hundreds of those athletes lose their millions within a couple years of playing in a pro sport. Their lives are invested heavily in that pursuit of fame and glory, and when it is done, they are either falsely celebrated as national heroes or discarded like deflated footballs. Some even come away from the games they play with brains addled by forcible contact, or wracked by chronic injuries so severe they live on painkillers the rest of their lives.

But it’s not even pro athletes that are the issue in the recent National Anthem protests. It is how people are being treated on the streets of America, and in business, our schools and cities or small towns. Anywhere you go, the wicked face of racism maintained its foothold despite general gains in social progress the last 40 years. Racism has risen up yet again as a national movement in 2016, driven by a candidate whose supporters claim that the very act of calling them out on that is political correctness. They cherish instead the dehumanizing approach of treating people of color as “the other” on claims that America is a white nation by destiny, and by tradition.

And that’s why some people are kneeling during the tradition of playing the National Anthem before football games. America’s game, the NFL, actually gets paid money from the military to host patriotic displays. The red meat tradition of pro football aligns well with the militaristic jingoism that feeds the military-industrial complex. That same military was all too willing to send black soldiers into combat during World War II, but America essentially ignored those honorable men and women when they came back home. Instead they were met with a society that still rudely discriminated against them.

Some changes

Some aspects of civil rights in America have changed since the 1940s, but not all of them. The liberties our nation defended in the last World War are not consistently supported across the face of the nation. Our first black president has been accused of not solving all that racial tension. He’s even been blamed for causing it. Such cynicism is nowhere near even laughable. It is perhaps the most serious issue of our times that racists can turn their attacks on a black president for eight years and then blame him for being the divisive one.

crsmitht1These are the aspects of American citizenship that men such as Colin Kaepernick find so disgusting. There’s a lot of faux patriotic shaming going on now, mostly by people throwing patriotism around as it were a weapon unto itself. But that defies the nature of true patriotism, which is a commitment to the idea that the equality guaranteed in our Constitution is not real until it is provided to all citizens. That includes minorities, women, gays and everyone who lives under this nation’s flag.

Bitter farce

And until that is the case, standing during the National Anthem is a bitter farce, as is reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. To what? A country where hate is not just tolerated, but promoted as a political party platform? Where fear of immigrants is a recruitment tool, and religious discrimination grounds for violence?

What we’re actually witnessing in the backlash against Colin Kaepernick and others is a forcible attempt at conformity. “Make them get in line, stand up, salute the flag…they’re disrespecting our nation.”

But oh how wrong you have it if that’s what you believe. What they are actually doing by kneeling during the National Anthem is respecting the very roots of democracy that led to the American Revolution. It was tyranny then that led people to protest. And racial tyranny has a very real history in America. Slavery was real. Jim Crow laws were real. Police with attack dogs and fire hoses and batons were real. Today, police violence against black citizens is documented nearly every single day. The rates of incarceration for black men is multiple times higher than that for whites committing virtually the same crimes, or no crimes at all. Hundreds of black men have been falsely accused of crimes and thrown into jail for the bulk of their lives, only to be released when evidence is shown that they had nothing to do with the crime for which they served time.

These are injustices that continue to go on in this country. Yet our nation is only too happy to wave the flag and watch our black men and women trot around the track as they win Olympic medals, or carry the football across the goal line. That’s because too many people don’t even see these athletes as human beings. They are black athletes. Nothing more need be said. They are tolerated by some Americans only because they are winners.

But the rest of black America has been treated as losers for too long. So it’s time to take a knee and call America to account for its hypocritical traditions and celebrations. That’s what this is all about. Rehumanize yourself. Consider what’s being said in all this. That’s the only real solution.

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About Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth is a content producer, writer and blogger with more than 25 years’ experience in B2B and B2C marketing, journalism, public relations and social media. Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @gofast and blogs at werunandride.com, therightkindofpride.com and at 3CCreativemarketing.com. Online portfolio: http://www.behance.net/christophercudworth
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