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Black History Month...and the Super Bowl

February is Black History Month. It has been an important month for me the past few years in particular. I’ve enjoyed working with the UCLA women’s basketball team and learning from and with so many amazing black women. They have been kind, patient, loving and gracious towards me. I miss them every day!

And so, without their presence and passion in my day to day life I’m here wondering what to do with this month??? And, as with MLK Day, I feel differently. I am feeling like I should just be quiet (especially on social media) and listen and learn. However, just a day and a half into Black History Month, my quiet became uneasy watching the Super Bowl.

I think it’s important to know that my grandfather was probably the most influential person in my young life. He passed when I was ten, so when I say young, I mean really young. He was my hero. He saw me. I should say, I felt seen by him. I loved horses…and so did he. He taught me how to ride and take care of the ponies he bought for us. I was riding at three and driving our small tractor and mucking stalls by around age seven. We went to the racetrack together, and yes, I chose my favorite (usually grey) horse and he would place a bet for me. It was SO MUCH FUN! I will hear songs from the 60’s sometimes and be transported back to walking through the crowds at Churchill Downs with him.

He was also very patriotic…at least that’s how I remember him. I learned to love the flag. I learned to love my country. It is deep in me, and it’s from him. He married my grandmother, an amazing Guatemalan woman—Margarita Marroquin—and she came to live with him in Ohio and then Virginia. She was…well, there’s too much, I will save it for another time. He clearly adored her. She was not born here in the United States and she spoke very little English. I learned to love the Spanish language and the fire of her Latin personality. She wasn’t a “foreigner” or an “immigrant” she was “Skippy,” my beloved grandmother.

I have living inside of me a love for people of color, a love for my country, and a love for our flag. Well…that is complicated now isn’t it? And then, the Super Bowl…. I was moved to tears by some of the pre-game ceremonies. So many great players, so many inspirational stories…it was wonderful! And then they did the video tribute to the flag. It started to bother me pretty quickly. It, and I felt uneasy. Remember, my grandfather taught me to love the flag. And I do. However, I noticed things in the video…things I didn’t use to notice. For example, the team owners spoke in the video…all white women. That felt like a power play. A white power play. It made me think of Colin Kaepernick. Hm. I cried through many parts of the video…honoring the 9-11 families, the amazing hero who raised the flag, so much good, and yet so hard. I saw a Native American woman…which caused pause. What was that about??? The video was powerful…but was the statement intended to be, our country is awesome!? Or, our country is flawed but we all want the same things? Or…??? One Twitter comment… “video just slapped Kaepernick with that flag tribute” and yes, in my opinion, they did. And my guess is, they meant to. Also, I’m aware many think he should be slapped.

That young man who decided to kneel for the anthem to the flag, has been locked out of the NFL. I thought about him…that he played for San Francisco who was about to play in the Super Bowl, and I thought about why he knelt. And why many players knelt. He tried to explain it over and over again. They didn’t kneel to disrespect the flag. They knelt to protest police brutality. They sought to bring light to what was hidden in the dark, in a sense, to stand up by kneeling, to confront power and systemic racism. He lost his job because of it.

It points to the complexity of it all, doesn’t it? If someone protests police brutality and racism, does that mean they are against the country, against the police? Does that mean they are against the military? Is that protest disrespectful of the sacrifice so many wonderful police officers and military people make as they do their jobs well?

I keep thinking of the term “microaggression” which is fairly new to my vocabulary. Harvard University professor Chester M. Pierce coined the term in the 70’s. Here is his definition:

These [racial] assaults to black dignity and black hope are incessant and cumulative. Any single one may be gross. In fact, the major vehicle for racism in this country is offenses done to blacks by whites in this sort of gratuitous neverending way. These offenses are microaggressions. Almost all black±white racial interactions are characterized by white put-downs, done in automatic, preconscious, or unconscious fashion. These mini disasters accumulate. It is the sum total of multiple microaggressions by whites to blacks that has pervasive effect to the stability and peace of this world. (source and more info here)

For example, a white person describes a black person as “so articulate.” This comment may not be consciously intended as an overtly racist remark, but it usually hits home as such…interpretation, I am in your opinion surprisingly intelligent and articulate, for a black person. These things add up. And I have been more often than not, and unforgivingly so, oblivious.

I just wonder, why we are so sure that our perspective is the right one? We being white people…and perhaps most confident—Christian white people. It seems to me, I need to listen for how my words affect people and learn how to change my words if that is not my intent. It seems to me, there are good police officers and there are bad police officers…and some of them are violent and racist police officers who need to be stopped/fired/jailed perhaps. It seems to me there are people who kneel during the anthem who are not trying to dishonor the flag or anyone who has served sacrificially under that flag, and there are people who intentionally disrespect the flag and what we want it to stand for in many ways (google Trump anthem, for one example). It seems to me there are even controversial halftime shows that are actually seeking to honor strong Latin women and the many issues these communities are dealing with…wow has that one ever caused a stir! I’m learning that conflict can actually be the best road to understanding and peace. Yes, stir things up…see what surfaces…deal with it. Be humble and love people. Learn. Change. We, however, get stuck in opinionated controversy with no desire to resolve the conflict or to choose to learn and change. Maybe the half time show was oversexualized in our eyes, or maybe our eyes have filters that could use some new information.

So, yes, the Super Bowl caused an unanticipated change in my plans to be quiet for Black History Month. And since I’m now talking, may I add this—maybe this month can be a time for us all to speak up…to honor the history of people in this country whose true history has been unspoken and excluded from the history books written by and for white people. Maybe also, we can be quiet and get busy learning. We could watch “Just Mercy” and let our hearts break. We could read…there are so many lists of books to read and learn (google that as well!). We could step back and look for microaggressions all around us, and from us. We could stand up for people…all people. We could respect Colin Kaepernick for his strong convictions and desire to enact change that literally saves people’s lives.

I often wonder what my grandfather--patriotic, veteran, advocate for underdogs and lover of my Guatemalan grandmother--would have thought about these things. I wish I could talk to him about all of it. I guess I will have to use my words with those who are still here…and keep my heart and mind open to understanding and learning more. I want this to be my posture, not just for the month of February, but always for all the days God gives me, until I am with my grandparents in heaven. I have a feeling we will be both talking AND dancing.

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