Column: Standing with those ‘taking a knee’


Daily Egyptian file photo

By Sam Beard

Blinded by the lens of whiteness, casual racists come out of the woodworks and into the comments section to chastise and threaten black students speaking out against systemic injustice.

Three woman of color, whom I can only aspire to one day be half as strong as, have taken a bold stance, in spite of everything, against the seemingly never-ending racialized violence in the United States of America.

Of course, I am talking about those brave SIU cheerleaders who have decided to take a knee during the national anthem only to receive threats of death and sexual assault.


Nevertheless, they said they have no plans to stop the peaceful protest.

The “take a knee” movement kicked off last year when NFL player Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the national anthem.

His teammate, Eric Reid, who knelt beside him during the early days of the movement, wrote an editorial in the New York Times last month explaining that they chose to kneel as a direct response to the “issues that face our community, including systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality and the criminal justice system.”

But it is our white lens that enables us to believe that this protest is about the flag or the armed forces, leaving us utterly unresponsive and apathetic to the plight of people of color in contemporary America.

On Oct. 3, the SIU Board of Trustees hosted its first annual diversity award ceremony, at which anti-racist activist Tim Wise was the keynote speaker.

Besides grilling the administration for even considering cutting the Department of Africana Studies, Wise’s main theme throughout the lecture was how whiteness acts as a lens that inhibits those who perceive the world through it from actually understanding reality, especially people of colors’ reality.

That reality, of course, is one of economic, social and political disempowerment, where white people tell people of color when and how they are allowed to protest, where cops can shoot black men in cold blood and get away with it and where taking a knee is somehow deserving of death threats.


Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz
Sophomore radio, television and digital media major Czarina Tinker, of Nashville, Tennessee, left, and sophomore psychology major Ariahn Hunt, of Chicago, far right, kneel during the national anthem Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, before the Salukis’ matchup against the University of Northern Iowa Panthers at Saluki Stadium. President Donald Trump publicly criticized NFL athletes who kneel during the National Anthem to protest police brutality last week. (Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz)

“Make America Great Again” is a not-so-subtle admission that there are things wrong with this country.

Wise explained how it is the lens of whiteness that makes it acceptable to some for a white billionaire to complain about the US, but the moment a black or brown person levies critiques they are “ungrateful,” told to “get over it” or that they should move somewhere else.

The reason some find it necessary to reprimand these courageous young women is because they quite simply have no idea what it is like to be black in America.

It is from a position of privilege (that I, too, hold) that people talk down to the demonstrators and condemn their choice of protest tactic — condescendingly assuring them that if they only did it in some other fashion, in some other place, that they would be heard and taken seriously.

By arbitrarily pledging allegiance to a country whose very foundation is genocide and mass enslavement, whose current doctrine is one of world economic domination, exploitation and the largest prison population in human history, one is indirectly endorsing these things.

Now, these girls have explicitly stated that they are not anti-American.

The whole taking a knee thing is just about wanting people to slow down for a moment and open their eyes and ears to the millions of voices that have been saying that America is not and has never been great.

In fact, America has never even been halfway decent to people of color.

But it is that deceptive, little lens of whiteness that can prevent even some of the best-meaning white people from being able to comprehend that.

I don’t know anything about what it is like to be black in America, but those cheerleaders do. And that is why it is our duty to listen to them.

However, it must be stated that if we are to move towards racial justice in this country we need to do a whole lot more than just listen.

In order to fully support the demonstrators we must truly ally ourselves with their cause. But what that might look like is not for me to determine.

Student Trustee Sam Beard can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at (618) 453-8418. His office is located in the Registered Student Organization Suite on the third floor of the Student Center and his office hours are Mondays/Wednesdays: 11:00 am – 12:50 pm, Thursdays: 11:00 am – 2:00 pm, or by appointment.