What is a patriot?

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Since January 20th, 2017 our days have been emotionally draining and intellectually perplexing. We have seen that the only thing that President Trump has been actively involved in are late night and early morning tweeting on Twitter. It's these impulsive proclivities that provide us with an open shutter to catch a glance of whatever it is that floats around in his head. His latest entry into this voluminous collection of brain farts was directed at the NFL football players and team owners that have chosen to take a knee during the National Anthem. 

Chris Rock once said of the initial OJ Simpson verdict, "I haven't seen white people this mad since they canceled M*A*S*H!" As it turns out, the same can be said for Black athletes who have decided to use this silent and peaceful form of protest to address the continued racial injustices and inequities that continue to plague this country to this day. When you talk to most people, they seem to realize that- whether they support the protests or not. However, there are some white folks out there that see this not as a protest of injustice, but as a protest against the American flag, the national anthem, veterans and members of the military. Words like "ungrateful" and "disrespectful" have been used to describe these players- language familiar to those who have studied the Civil Rights movement in the 60s. These white folks felt/feel that Blacks who protest should be thankful for what they have in America- to stop whining and being victims. Besides, they believe, would your life be better in Africa? Maybe you should go back there if you're not happy here! It's unAmerican! Now is not the time! The irony is that none of these things sound remotely "American," or patriotic for that matter.

A white fellow on Facebook asked me, being that I was a writer, if I could explain this controversy to him. He said he tried to get a straight answer 3 times, but no one seemed to be able to answer the question. Understand that I knew he was full of shit-- he COMPLETELY understood what was going on; he was being cautious. Only because he, too, was one of these folks that believes that a bunch of spoiled, entitled athletes should just stick to sports and not, you know, have a conscience or a sense of moral outrage. He didn't understand why in a country where Black people were free to be doctors or lawyers-- why would they have to protest racism? And then, of course, the greatest hits, featuring Black-on-Black crime, teen pregnancy, drugs, etc. You see, according to him the problem is not racism...it's Black people! Of course!

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One of my favorite parts of this is that he asks if the universe has changed since Mr. Kaepernick started his protests-- which as of this writing was about a year ago. This is a nonsensical question, of course. This country has wallowed in systemic racism for hundreds of years-- anyone who asks a magic wand question like that is not a serious person. Only a person who's first thoughts of Black folks are pimps, junkies, pregnant teens, gang bangers-- THIS is the type of white person that is part of the problem; those who continue to subscribe to the outdated publication known as the white supremacy myth. This man doesn't care about Black successes because he's too focused on Black failures...as if white failures do not exist.

The best part is that when I asked this person what his ethnicity was:

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It's precious, really-- when ancestors of white immigrants try to equate their struggles with those of Blacks in America. Irish and Italian immigrants did face some bigotry back in the day, that's true. You know what many of them did to offset that? They changed their names. They put themselves "in the closet," in an ethnic sense so that they could blend in and not be seen as what they really were. It's a convenience trick to pull...one that Black and Brown folks can't pull off. 

This was my response to this gentleman:

I know quite a few folks that were descended from Irish and Italian immigrants in this country. There are many folks with this lineage that try to equate the experiences of their relatives to that of the Africans in America that were in bondage. I think it's safe to say that there is no, zero, comparison to be made with regards to being an indentured servant or tenant farmers, who were given the option of working their way to better circumstances. There are a relative FEW Black folks in America that were descended from indentured servants, or free people. My family on my mother's side were also farmers, and a couple even had freedom...but that is a RARE case in America. 

Looking at history over the last several centuries leading up to today, one will find a lot that has changed...and some things have not at all. I think anyone who believes that racism is no longer an issue in America is someone who is not paying attention- either by sheer ignorance or lack of caring. White supremacy and the racism it breeds, is the cancer that is destroying this country and has infected ALL of our institutions: education, real estate, employment, healthcare, law enforcement, even the military (if my dad were still alive, he could talk all about the number of times he was called a 'nigger' by whites while he was defending this country in Vietnam-- who wanted to kill him because he told them to go fuck themselves). 

Now, I don't get pulled over by cops a lot-- and when I have, I drove away with little or no incident. Is that a matter of upbringing? Is that a matter of being in the right place at the right time? I can't say for sure that if I was pulled over in many other places that I would just as easily drive away. That's not a silly notion-- that's a reality.


I'm not directly affected by the violence in Chicago, or the various police shootings that go on every day. I wasn't denied housing,  I have a well-paying job as a creative executive, and my kids go to great schools. That doesn't mean that I don't have any skin in this game, so-to-speak. There are folks out there who are struggling and suffering, and who unfortunately may not have the word-power or the confidence or the ability to defend themselves in a way that would avoid conflict and misery. Sometimes these folks need voices louder than theirs to get these issues into the light so that they can be addressed. The VERY LEAST that athletes and entertainers can do is to show solidarity with these folks. Sure, you can question their intentions if you want...that's your prerogative. 

There are many folks (including the President) who think attacking the protesters is the way to handle these issues-- which is NOT about handling the issues, it's about telling these (Black) people to shut up.

You want to know what his response was? Me, too-- I haven't heard it yet. 

The white supremacy myth is making fools out of 1/3 of our countrymen and women. We are seeing it manifest in our friends and family who are lashing out at these players, making lame and tired excuses for their outrage, blaming these young men for things that they are not doing. There is never going to be a right time or the right place for these people to hear or see a protest.. They have shown and proven that not only do they have no interest in the issues that affect "other people," many are going out of their way to disavow any and all criticism. They are uncomfortable. I say GOOD. I WANT THEM to be uncomfortable. I want any and everyone who sees these protests as an affront, a spit in the eye, a betrayal to feel as uncomfortable as possible. You know why? Because watching a 90 second protest is not the same as a lynching. Someone kneeling in front of a flag is not calling someone a "nigger." Speaking out about truthful events and their consequences on a community is not enslavement and oppression. Most importantly, paying respects to those who have died in the name of white nationalism is NOT disrepecting the troops. Again, my father fought in Vietnam along side men white men who openly called him a "nigger."  Does hearing that make you uncomfortable? Good, because it should. If you can defend this nation in the face of that kind of idiocy, animus, hatred...WHAT'S more patriotic than that?

But you...with your American flag truck nuts, and your American flag beer cozy, sitting in your American flag shorts....YOU'RE the patriot? You who embraces the WORST in America and condemn those trying to raise it up-- YOU are the patriot? You who sits on your ass while you watch the game at home-- are YOU standing for the anthem? Or does it only matter when you're there? Do you have an anthem ringtone on your phone? No? Then WHAT KIND OF PATRIOT ARE YOU?!

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Charles Conyers