OH SAY CAN YOU SEE…? IF YOU CAN’T, WHY NOT…?

October 1st, 2016

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So, today I spent some time before the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus forum—The Legacy of Bernie Sanders—at the Parma-Snow branch of Cuyahoga County Libraries reading the Time Magazine cover story on Colin Kaepernick and his Take A Knee protests. The short take on the story is that if you knew nothing about Colin Kaepernick (or Rodney Axson, who isn’t mentioned in the story) then you might have discovered useful information. If you’ve followed the story at all, there was nothing new to read.

I give Time credit for putting the story on the cover, but there could have been more focus on Kaepernick, and the other players, as what they hope to accomplish. I did, however, take away a few bits.

The first place I marked in the story came where writer Sean Gregory noted:

All challenges to the social order provoke strong reactions, but these protest have been particularly divisive. The Star Spangled Banner has been a ritual before American sporting events since World War II, as professional leagues have made a concerted effort to associate their brand with love of country.

This need to associate a brand with patriotism is not new. I am reminded of a movie scene (I think in Yankee Doodle Dandy when a vaudeville performer, losing the audience, grabs the American flag on the side of the stage and strides back and forth, waving the flag, to get the audience cheering. Then there are the business people who make a point of flying the most ginormous flag they can find in front of their business or proclaiming in all their commercials that they are American and proud of it. Here’s a hint, if you have to keep reminding everyone that you’re a proud American, maybe you need to ponder why that is (and don’t get me started on politicians and their lapel pins).

Gregory hits the core of the story in what I saw as three, closely associated, paragraphs on the second page where he wrote:

Spurred by the death of Trayvon Martin and the fatal shootings of unarmed African Americans, players in the NBA and NFL—both leagues made up predominantly by black men, many from underserved backgrounds—have started to speak out in ways that recall an earlier generation of activists-athletes.

Followed a column later by the quote from Colin Kaepernick that started the movement:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

Two paragraphs later, Gregory provides a central piece of understanding in all this that many may have missed:

An exchange with Nate Boyer, a former Green Beret who briefly played in the NFL, prompted Kaepernick to modify his protest from sitting out to taking a knee as a way of acknowledge the significance of the anthem while still making his point clear.

All of that is good information, but what really piqued my interest were two sidebars and the language the writers chose to use. The first was Kaepernick Had No Choice But To Kneel by John McWhorter. McWhorter, an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Colombia University made the deliberate choice to use: the cops, cops and openly racist cops in his piece 10 times in approximately 700 words.

That may not seem important, but, while the term is widely used by both non-police and police personnel the word is a pejorative harking back to when police uniforms sported copper buttons. The slang term was shortened to cop and joined the derogatory lexicon with flat-foot, fuzz and pig.

Contrast McWhorter’s use with that a page later of Eddie Glaude in There’s No Such Thing As A Selective Patriot. There, Glaude, the Department of African American studies chair at Princeton, chooses to use, the police, police officers and simply officers five times in some 400 words.

Each writer carefully chose their words. Their choices, just as are ours, are important.

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