Dear Fellow White People: Or should I have said ‘Caucasian’?
Some words are touchy
Dear Fellow White People:
This is not to say all black people are one voice regarding the NFL anthem issue. Stop. I know. But I write to you, Caucasian people in particular, because probably none of us will ever have the police showing up because we’re walking down the street. Or grilling. Or struggling to find the right key to our own house because the porch light is broken. Not that all black people struggle to find the right key to their own house because the porch light is broken. Stop me. Wait. I’m likely not going to be stopped. For mowing my lawn. For feeding the homeless. For driving a nice car. For. Being. White.
This isn’t to say all police are bad. Not hardly. Not at all. They have many times over a difficult, dangerous and thankless job. All of us of any color can appreciate the ones who serve and protect us. They aren’t even all white. Five Oh.
Enough with the disclaimers.
Have you ever heard of The Green Book?
The official title was The Negro Motorist Green Book.
It was published from 1936 to 1966 to inform black motorists about the places on the map where they could and couldn’t stop, eat or sleep under Jim Crow. The stretches of highway where the Ku Klux Klan used lynching indiscriminately. It kept the list of sundown towns where nonwhites were not allowed after dark. There were thousands of sundown towns all over the country.
The Negro Motorist Green Book can be found in rare book stores, and eBay. It’s like a retro item with modern-day applications.
We just noted recently the one-year anniversary of the fatal march of white supremacists in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. Their tiki torches took me back to my youth. My dad would put them up on our property when he threw his parties for all his co-workers at the airport. In their light I saw white faces and black faces and every shade in between. Didn’t really think to care. My friends and I just wanted to see the stewardesses. (That is sexist, but it is not racist. Maybe. I was 8.) It was the late 1960s, turbulent times. But it didn’t seem so when your father’s friends from the airport have the look of a United Nations General Assembly.
The Negro Motorist Green Book. For black people. To get around safely. In their own country. Just typing the words reminds me of something from the great steroid home run race of the late 1990s.
I referenced the Negro Leagues star Josh Gibson on a SportsCenter for the fact that he’d hit 84 homers in one season. Except I decided to say “the so-called Negro Leagues.” I did so, I thought, because it would distance me from the word Negro and show more respect for the players who weren’t allowed to play with white people at the time and indicate that I thought having to have a Negro League was stupid. How kindly white of me. I got a call from the office of the National League, and the man on the other end accused me of denigrating the players with my qualifying “so-called.” I tried to explain my intentions, but he heard what he heard. Some words are just touchy.
The Green Book is from a long time ago (not really), and the fact it existed might not be known to many. But the conditions that necessitated its creation are part of our history. The memories of events that made The Green Book necessary for decades are shared from one generation to the next. I know this because I have seen firsthand a black family sharing them. This came in the same period of my life when I learned to play dominoes. White people: Dominoes are not just for setting up and knocking over.
Here’s a more recent example that might allow for better understanding of the anthem issue. I have the authority to offer this example because I know how to play dominoes and am a dual qualifier to The Cookout. Remember when that black guy was voted president? That was something. First time in this country that anyone can grow up to be president.
Barack Obama’s election must have been particularly meaningful to elderly black people who served in World War II, returned home to Whites Only drinking fountains and used The Negro Motorist Green Book. It must also have been particularly painful for them to watch as a certain group of white people repeated the lie that President Obama was in office illegally, given he wasn’t born in the United States. Then the man who was most outspoken regarding the false allegations was elected president of the United States.
The equal justice protests during the anthem started even before that man, of course. The protesting players just weren’t called “sons of b—-es” by the president at the time.
It’s true that white people are mistakenly accused of crimes, but I guess it hasn’t happened enough times to have white football players risking their jobs to demonstrate against it.
A few of the black players, though, thought it was time to do so on behalf of equal justice for people of color (they aren’t all black). A couple of them, Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, seemingly lost employment over this. Forever.
The players who have peacefully dissented have never once said a bad word about our military, but some people believe the demonstrations insult our armed forces. It’s just an easier criticism to make by those who aren’t interested in the actual issue. If you or your kids aren’t likely to face a life-and-death situation based on the shade of their pigmentation, it’s not difficult to go with the simplistic story when it comes to a government-sponsored ceremonial event at the start of football games.
A pretty solid venue for expressing a point of view is during a compulsory patriotic ceremonial event held in publicly financed stadiums, broadcast over federally allocated airwaves. You can’t ask for more than that if you have an argument to make. The protesting players, in short, are calling for us to live up to the principles represented by the flag.
Those principles are so strong they’d hold up fine if the players burned a flag at the 50, igniting it with the embers of something rolled up in a long-form Obama birth certificate.
But they haven’t done that. They’ve really just kind of been a little disobedient to norms. No one else is being interfered with if they want to stand with hands on hearts and toes on the lines. Sometimes the white teammates of the protesters put a hand on their shoulders. Some of you white players could end up getting a certificate at The Woke Awards.
The dissenting players don’t even interfere with the drunken people ordering more beer on the concourse during the playing of the anthem, or with the people in the stands taking selfies. Or talking. Or sitting the first 20 seconds of the song until noticing an anthem is taking place. American exceptionalism.
I come from a family of anthem singers. My sister Carolee and nieces Kirsten and Heather have honored the song well for decades. It always bothered me when people were rude during their singing. Their voices are stronger than any rudeness. The flag flew. The game played.
I wrote that my family honored the song. Honoring the country is evidenced in ways other than standing for a song. A whole bunch of players have been doing that. It’s witnessed on all 32 teams. Working on community policing, putting money and time and their names into community causes. Kaepernick doesn’t have a job, but he gives away money like it’s still coming to him. Chris Long gives away water to Africans who don’t have any. Wait. I included a white guy. Same guy who puts his time and money into helping folks get something most of us take for granted (apologies to Flint, Michigan, with that note). Same guy who has put himself out there in defense of his teammates’ right to protest.
It’s all very complex. It’s not always black and white. It would do us well, Caucasians, to look into the gray areas. That’s where a lot of stuff is hiding. Except for the stuff that ought to be obvious. But in those cases, you still have to look. And not look away. Everything from our history, the black and the white of it, The Green Book of it, is never very far from the surface.
Enjoy the anthems. Take your hat off, Jerry Jones. My nieces might be singing. Your nieces might be singing. If anyone kneels this season or stays in the tunnel, it might be worth it to us all to find out what it’s about. It might be about The Green Book. Or everything before. Or after.
The events, they seem connected. To us all.