Taking on racism directly is hard, but necessary, for players and the rest of us. Why? White supremacy lingers over our lives because previous generations have failed to end it.
Instead of protesting, why don’t players do something to help black people improve their lives?
I’ve gotten many questions similar to that in response to columns about protests by athletes who are trying to bring attention to racism and spur action to make the country more fair.
The answer is that they do help in other ways. Most of the players have foundations that support good works in their communities and nationwide. Many of them volunteer their time to help young people of all races.
Among Seahawks, Earl Thomas has a foundation that helps families in need, Kam Chancellor gives to organizations that help people in underprivileged communities, Michael Bennett fights obesity and Cliff Avril gives to low-income families of children who have diabetes. And the list goes on.
That’s one kind of help, and it can give someone a boost to overcome obstacles, but what the players are doing now is aimed at eroding the obstacles themselves. It’s a more direct way of bringing to people’s attention what lies at the heart of many other problems, the disease that causes so many devastating symptoms.
That’s racism, specifically white supremacy, which lingers over our lives because previous generations have failed to end it. Courageous people have fought and died and successfully removed the most obvious manifestations of racism (slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, etc.), but we are left now with the structures and attitudes white supremacy created. And they are harder to kill, partly because they are harder to see.
The evidence of their existence is everywhere, though. We see it in the huge gaps between white and black income and wealth. It leaves footprints in the form of a black-unemployment rate that is twice the white rate, no matter what the economy is doing.
The evidence shows up when families take out loans, and black people more often get the worst terms, regardless of their financial status.
It’s there in education when you see that black children in Seattle schools are far more likely to be suspended or expelled than white children for similar behavior.
Bias in policing prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to require changes in the way the Seattle Police Department does its work. Friday, the city asked to be declared in full compliance after five years of reform.
There are few, if any, areas of American life where it does not show up.
I get some form of the question I started with whenever I mention race — why don’t black people just suck it up and fix their problems themselves, work harder, study harder, fight crime and stop complaining?
It’s a question that’s related to the idea that homeless people have no one to blame but themselves, that LGBTQ Americans should just be quiet, that immigrants should just go “home” instead of fighting for justice here. It’s the idea that women have gone too far in calling for more opportunities in tech firms or complaining about sexual harassment. Be tough, don’t take yourself too seriously. You never hear Asians complaining do you? Actually, I do, but they have a hard time getting anyone to pay attention.
These questions are rooted in the belief that we all have equal opportunities, and that we are all treated the same in America, therefore the fault has to be with those who don’t rise. Do the right thing and nothing can stand in your way. Don’t Barack Obama and Oprah prove that? No. What they prove is that there are no absolutes.
The effects of being black or white, male or female, aren’t a given, but they do tip the scales for most people. Obama rose to the presidency, but there is no way that would have happened if he’d been anything like Donald Trump in his words and deeds. Obama had to be Mr. Clean.
Some readers recognize the problem and ask what they can do to address it.
Many things: Examine your own assumptions. Listen to people who have different experiences. Support efforts to make your workplace more reflective of the country. Keep reminding yourself that we all start life with great potential. Vote for candidates who believe that. Contribute to the new “Seahawks Players Equality & Justice for All Action Fund.”
But for athletes or anyone else, fighting racism, unlike donating time or money, means making enemies. It’s hard to do, and only a few players have taken that path.
A majority of players stood with their colleagues when they were attacked by the president, but that was about solidarity, not the underlying issue. We need to focus on eliminating the sneaky disease.
Editor’s note: The comment thread on this story has been closed to new submissions because too many recent comments were violating our Terms of Service.