Oppression is a topic that doesn’t get the attention it should in our society. We treat oppression as a vestige of the past that we shed long ago. If we do acknowledge the modern day presence of oppression, we discuss it in very compartmentalized ways. Someone who is read as having any form of privilege, especially financial, is presumed to be free from oppression.
I read the comments
In this social media age, sometimes one has to read the comments, because thanks to algorithms and personal choice, our social media feeds can function as echo chambers. Well, I’ve read some comments regarding professional athletes taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem. Of the comments I’ve read (some of which were on one of my own posts on my profile), many of them fall into one of two camps:
- These overpaid crybabies need to shut up, stand up, and do their jobs.
- Why are these millionaires protesting? It’s not like they’re oppressed.
Viewing oppression through personal interests
I’d like to offer some thoughts on the 2nd category, as it connects to my work. This line of thinking, that because they’re rich, they can’t protest oppression, reflects an issue with interest convergence. As Derrick Bell noted, White folx tend to see oppression only through a personal lens; they care about oppression when it affects them, or care about eliminating oppression when such elimination could also benefit them. There is a new rallying cry around the sanctity of the flag. But, as athletes have stated, the protests aren’t against the flag.
It is quite a privilege to be able to claim that oppression isn’t real, or if real, looks a very particular way, and then have that claim not only supported, but repeated by people in power. The ability to deny the experience of oppression is itself oppression. The act of naming oppression becomes painted as radical; an act of defiance. Professional athletes are cast as ungrateful when they speak against oppression .
I previously shared a version of this on LinkedIn. In the few weeks that have passed that original posting, I have continued to reflect on this topic. Colin Kaepernick is the focus of much of the attention around taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem. His efforts to protest against racial injustices in the United States were met with fierce backlash from fans and NFL team owners alike. The fervor on the part of team owners has amounted to Kaep being black listed, and he remains unsigned, despite several teams being in dire need of a quarterback.
I’ve watched videos of several NFL players interviewed in locker rooms after the week’s games. When asked about deciding to take a knee, or stand in solidarity with fellow players, I saw a common thread. These men want their children to see that they’re doing something to speak out against injustice. These men recognize they have a platform as professional athletes, and are using it to speak truth to power. I wish some of the people commenting against protesters would stop to listen.
Acknowledge each other’s humanity
Our challenge on college campuses lies in creating spaces where we can listen to each other. We’re so focused on calling each other out, to prove how right we are in the face of how wrong the other person is. We have to give each other space to be heard, and space to listen. When we listen to each other, and truly hear each other, maybe we can acknowledge our privileges, and honor the humanity of the oppressed and those who take a knee against oppression.
Not respectability politics
To meet this challenge of hearing each other, we have to be clear on something: this isn’t about politeness, or respectability politics. Eliminating oppression is the priority. Doing so likely requires accomplices, an issue I’ll address in a future post, as well as on an episode of I’m Curious.