Debate between two Seahawks illustrates the need for context in discussions about race.
Seahawk cornerback Richard Sherman made news around the country last week for his take on “Black Lives Matter.” You may have read about that, but most people probably didn’t see the gentle rebuttal from his teammate Michael Bennett.
The take-away from Sherman’s news conference was that black people need to address our own issues, particularly black-on-black crime, before criticizing anyone else.
Here’s Sherman quoted in The Seattle Times: “We need to deal with our own internal issues before we move forward and start pointing fingers and start attacking other people. We need to solidify ourselves as people and deal with our issues. I think that as long as we have black-on-black crime, and one black man killing another … If black lives matter, then they should matter all the time.”
A day later, Bennett said, “black people kill black people, white people kill white people, people kill people every day,” but “Black Lives Matter” is about the unjust behavior of people who are supposed to protect the community.
Most Read Local Stories
- Idaho abortion 'trafficking' bill opens Pandora's box of questions for WA
- Alert skier spots snowboard, digs to save man near WA ski area
- Shooting on Capitol Hill leaves man dead, child injured
- Seattle weather forecast: 'Unseasonably strong' system on way
- Seattle's 'unspoken' rules: No umbrellas, no honking and more
He said that because of racial segregation, people most often kill people of the same race. That’s a fact.
It’s also true that when segregation includes high rates of joblessness among young men, there is likely to be more of certain kinds of crime and more violence in the streets.
That’s true regardless of skin color, but it is something many Americans assume is a black thing. It’s a big problem for some black people because black people are the most segregated and confront high unemployment rates, usually double the rate for white Americans. When the unemployment for white Americans during the recession approached the rate it had been for black people during normal times, journalists and politicians showed great sympathy for unemployed, regular folk.
The other misconception here is that black people don’t care about being victimized by other black people. When polled, black people say they worry about crime and want more protection against it.
And there are numerous efforts in black communities across the country to fight against crime and to give young people alternatives. Black professionals volunteer with young people and donate to scholarship funds. Black churches and organizations run programs for young people.
There’s not nearly enough of that, for certain, but there’s more than people imagine. Good things don’t make the news as often as bad.
And you would think there would be a better understanding of the difference between how we think about the behavior of an individual criminal and someone who is hired by the community to uphold justice.
I certainly don’t like killing of any sort, but if the killing is done on behalf of the community, the community has a responsibility to make sure that its values are being upheld.
Fighting racism is a major part of building better lives and better communities for black people. Segregation and poverty disproportionately affect black Americans for reasons that go beyond individual behavior. Bias in education, housing, criminal justice, hiring and the media all contribute to the conditions that make pulling one’s self up much more difficult.
Sherman felt compelled to share his views because anti-black comments he never made were attributed to him online and picked up by several conservative websites. At the news conference, he said black lives matter, but he believes a different strategy more internally focused would be more productive.
Black people working toward a measure of justice have been debating strategy since slavery. Work hard and be above reproach and racism will go away, some people still say. History shows we have to both improve ourselves and actively combat racism. Black people have had to fight for education, for jobs, even for the right to die in war for their country.
Success in the black struggle for equality has always benefited America more broadly. When black people succeed there is more talent available to the nation. The modern civil-rights movement had an impact on women’s rights and on changes in race-based immigration policies that have allowed millions of people to come to the U.S. and thrive.
And there’s more to be done. A study that came out last month said the bias against men with dark skin spills over and affects people who aren’t black. Male immigrants from Asia and Latin America who have dark skin have a harder time in the employment market than immigrants with lighter skin, even when education and other variables are the same.
I’m glad Sherman and Bennett are having a conversation about race in America and giving their fans something more than football stats to think about. Their debate contributes to working out issues that affect millions every day.
If we keep working at it, someday we may get to the point where we can say all lives matter in America, but we aren’t there yet.