women's soccer

On race and protests …

I’ve asked in this space whether Megan Rapinoe’s national anthem protest is effective, and I’ve asked what’s next.

The answers, even within the politically homogeneous circles of women’s soccer Twitter fandom, have been diverse:

  1. No, because it’s all about her and now her spat with Bill Lynch, which revved up when she called him “homophobic.”
  2. Yes, because we’re talking about it.
  3. How dare you ask that, you dumb white man?!

(OK, they’re paraphrased.)

I should point out that I have had a good discussion on race myself. Not on Twitter. I spoke with a former football coach and former Marine (well, once a Marine, always a Marine, so let’s say “a Marine veteran”). He’s African-American and older. (But not old.)

standup

A conclusion we reached was interesting. When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, a lot of Americans unfortunately got more racist, and they actually used the president as an excuse. “Hey, our country elected a black man,” they’d argue, at least implicitly. “So racism is dead, and you can’t call me racist.”

Interesting point? Others can judge.

Now — was that conversation a direct or indirect result of Colin Kaepernick, Megan Rapinoe, Brandon Marshall and others deciding not to stand when the old English drinking song with Francis Scott Key’s lyrics of unlikely flag survival is played? (Marshall, incidentally, has paid for his stance with lost sponsorships, which I find sad and ridiculous.)

Maybe. But he and I have had good talks on race before. And we covered familiar ground in the same conversation, including a good scornful laugh at the people who took Gabby Douglas to task for not putting her hand over the heart for the anthem in Rio, only to fall mysteriously silent when a succession of white track and field athletes stood the same way the next week.

Related to that today: I’ve put up a poll asking people to put themselves in Rapinoe’s shoes when she wears a U.S. uniform next week:

As of this writing, it’s 51% kneel, 44% stand/repping USA, 5% stand/avoid controversy. I’m going to link it on Facebook later, and my guess is the “stand/repping USA” will surge into the lead.

No, I’m not Facebook friends with a bunch of wingnuts. A couple, yes. My high school didn’t exactly turn out to rally for Mondale.

But I also went to a college renowned for “political correctness.” Right-wing mags of the day spilled much ink denouncing our English department, among other things.

While I was there, I wrote a column ridiculing “political correctness” critics. I said many of the things some people consider “politically correct” are just good manners. If you’re going to say or do something that offends other people, you’d better have a good reason. Frat parties with sexist or racist themes? That’s not a good reason.

And yet, I often saw how easy it was for a well-intentioned political campaign to go off the rails.

It often boils down to people trying to outdo each other and forgetting what’s best for the cause. The most extreme case I saw in college: People trying to prove their anti-racism bona fides by hyping a speech by a speaker of color … who happened to be virulently anti-Semitic.

 

And so I’ve received some pushback on Twitter. Some of it is frank, honest and reasonable. Some of it is simply driven by a desire to one-up me in the anti-racism department — ironically by telling me to quit asking difficult questions. Or by telling me it looks bad for a white man to tell black people how to protest — which surprised me because Megan Rapinoe is most definitely white.

There’s also a basic problem within our politically homogeneous group of WoSo fans who follow each other on Twitter. Implicit throughout the discussion is the idea that only some bigoted jerk would take offense at a demonstration during the national anthem. (A notable exception: A veteran who gave it serious consideration.)

I don’t take offense. But I recognize that my feelings on patriotic symbols are unusual. This is one of my favorite Rush lyrics:

Better the pride that resides
In a citizen of the world
Than the pride that divides
When a colorful rag is unfurled

(Please don’t tell my right-wing friends on Facebook. That’s not politically correct in their circles.)

But I recognize this: There are reasonable people who wish Rapinoe and company would find a different means of protesting, at LEAST while she’s wearing the U.S. uniform.

So I have questions:

  • Are the anthem protests more effective than, say, the Minnesota Lynx’s T-shirts? (In that case, I have to say that while I’m generally reluctant to tell people when they can or can’t be offended, the police who walked off the job in that case looked like idiots.)
  • Do the anthem protests need to continue to be effective? Or should we call that Phase 1 and evolve into a next phase with T-shirts or bracelets (see above) that would help people spread the message in their daily lives without incurring backlash, not just from Bill Lynch but from plenty of people who are more reverential toward the anthem than I am?

phase1

  • Related to the last question: Which approach is better, more confrontational or less confrontational?
  • When Rapinoe says she thinks Bill Lynch is homophobic, does that overshadow whatever she’s trying to say on race?

I’m not pretending to know the answers. Matthew Doyle asked a good question on Twitter about how the gay rights and civil rights movements moved forward. I’m not sure. When I think of the civil rights movement, I think of brave but nonviolent leaders such as Martin Luther King and the Freedom Riders. I have no idea how the gay rights movement has made such strides — 12 years ago, John Kerry was considered ahead of the curve by advocating for “civil unions,” but today, a Twitter follower of mine says that’s homophobic. If you had told me 20 years ago that you’d be seeing Republicans (no, not all, of course) reaching out on gay marriage, I’d have said we’ll be on Mars first.

But I think the questions are a valid part of the discussion. And if you try to score Twitter points by questioning my sincerity in asking … what, exactly, are you contributing to moving the discussion forward?

So I’m going to keep asking. Because electing a person of color in 2008 clearly didn’t solve everything. We’ve got a long, long way to go.

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Categories: women's soccer

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