New Orleans Saint quarterback has issued an apology for his criticism of Colin Kapernick or other NFL players who would kneel at the national anthem in protest. Brees’ apology came after listening to his black teammates tell him how wrong-headed, tone deaf, unempathetic, inaccurate and ignorant his remarks were.
In criticizing black players kneeling at the anthem, Brees cited the patriotism of his grandfathers who fought in WWII. He did not make any mention of the blacks who also fought while suffering from the brutality of Jim Crow and the legacy of slavery and returned to discrimination and racial hatred and did not receive the GI benefits that Brees’ white grandfathers received. One can reasonably argue that those black soldiers as well as the Native American soldiers showed far more patriotism than white soldiers (my Japanese American uncles fought in WWII while they and their families were imprisoned in concentration camps).
Brees’ apology maintains that even if his remarks were wrong, he has always been an ally. But he never addresses the fact that Kapernick and others said their kneeling was not about disrespecting the flag or the armed forces. Instead, Brees insisted the black players should be ruled by his white interpretation of what they were doing, his white criteria for what is proper protest. He doesn’t see that this is a crucial aspect of white supremacy: Only white people get to decide what is the truth, only white people get to decide what is patriotism, only white people get to decide if black protest is proper or improper, is legitimate or illegitimate.
Black people have been voicing complaints about police brutality for more than a century and a half but white people never believed them. As so many have said, the main difference now is that we have video proof of that brutality, but everyone knows absent that visual proof the vast majority of white people did not and would not believe the word of black people.
And yet, on any racial issue in American history, black people have been on the side of righteousness, justice and history, and always at first, the majority of white people have opposed them, have been morally wrong, unjust and on the wrong side of history. Why is it, in the present, white people have never said: “Well, we got it wrong every time in our history while black people have been right. Maybe we should now listen to you and follow your lead, because history has always been on your side.”
Perhaps, just perhaps, this might be a time when this will happen, when white people will not only listen to black people but follow their lead. Our country’s future depends upon that.