Merriam, 68 years old, raised her three kids (one with sickle cell anemia) as a single mother, while working two full-time jobs, is now raising her 3-year-old grandson because her daughter is deployed overseas in the Army. If you run into her and ask her how she is, she will joyfully respond, “I’m blessed and highly favored.”
Jerrod graduated Summa Cum Laude from Morehouse University. He then got his MBA with high honors from Wharton School of Business and immediately got a job with the largest fund management firm in the world. His boss has developed a close relationship with a young man, Tyler, who was hired at the same time as Jerrod. He says that Tyler reminds him of himself as a young man. Although Jerrod comes from better schools and has been performing far better over the last four years, his boss is grooming Tyler to be the next Managing Director: introducing him to the “right” people and giving him guidance and tips both during the day and off hours. Jerrod laughs that people at the job have questioned if he got his job because of affirmative action, when it’s obvious whom is benefitting from his race and getting special treatment. But, he always says how blessed he is to have his job. He is earning more than his parents salaries combined.
Every Sunday morning churches are filled with Black folks, raising their hands, singing, and sometimes putting the last few dollars they have until payday in the collection plate all in the name of giving thanks.
Black folks are probably the most grateful people on this planet. A slap upside the head and/or a stern talkin’ to is a guaranteed occurrence should a child complain about what’s for dinner, what he must wear or do, or about something that they want. Ungratefulness is not tolerated in a Black household.
So, I’ve been struck by the many opinions expressed regarding the silent, kneeling protest being waged by some football players to draw attention to police brutality and civil rights. Repeatedly, the President, White sports commentators, and hundreds of people online have suggested that Black folks need to be grateful.
But to whom? To whom should we be grateful… to them?!
Yes, these people, including our current President, absolutely believe a debt of gratitude is owed. They believe, at bottom, that America is theirs. We are visitors who can be told to go back to Africa anytime they become angry; ordered to be “American” (as if there is a single standard of American; and they are the masters and enforcers of it) when we do something “different”; and charged to be grateful for what we have (as if they are the ones who allowed us to have it) when we dare ask for anything more (even if the more is merely equity).
Those Black men, who have played sports from elementary school through college, helping their schools win trophies, bragging rights, and millions of dollars; who have forfeited getting the best education because they had to dedicate so much time to sports—a job that will, according to statistics, only last 3 years; who have suffered injuries that will stick with them for their entire lives such as broken bones, ripped tendons and countless concussions (that may later cause terminal diseases like ALS or CTE); who have lost time with family and friends; who have practiced hour after endless hour; who have memorized plays and studied other teams; who tried out and made team after team; who were also born with amazing physical abilities –should be grateful to the overweight truck driver who’s burning his jersey in Tennessee? Where does this non-athletic jackass get his gall? Should a player be grateful to the team owner, (who in most instances inherited his money) for the privilege of making him richer by having the ability to play a sport that he can’t. The suggestion is that NFL players should be grateful that they are allowed to earn money for doing something that they have dedicated their entire lives to do and that makes the owners, advertisers, sportswear companies and ticketing agencies, a lot of money; and that brings joy to millions of fans?
NFL players should be grateful—not to God, not to their coaches or to their families—but to them—White people collectively. Clearly, these White people feel as if they own us—as if our very existence is due to them. Do you realize how fucked up that is?
But the worst part about it is that they are right.
I recognize how right they are when I saw Black men week after week following Kapaernick’s protest continue to stand for the National Anthem; when most only knelt when their owners gave them permission; when nobody else spoke out; when no one publicly challenged why Kapaernick had not been signed to a team. The NFL is 76% Black. It is one of the only organizations that is almost completely dependent on us; and yet, we/they were too scared to confront polarizing issues or upset the ownership. Why? Players want/need that paycheck and the White man owns the team, so in-turn they own us. Additionally, most of the rich White man’s fan base is other White people (though poor and middle class, who don’t want Kapaernick to play, so he won’t. Again, total control.
But in many respects, these football players, as disappointed as I have been with them, aren’t that different from me or you. They are trying to make a living, support their families, realize their dreams; and White people, because of their 300 year head start, own almost everything and largely control these destinies. Even a Black person who owns a business must usually depend on a bank for a loan, a landlord for a lease, and/or is dependent upon a White company for patronage. For most Black people, every dream they have is somehow dependent on a “yes” from somebody White.
And nothing depresses me more. That must change or we truly are not free.
We can’t afford to be satisfied by just what we have; but rather must measure our satisfaction by the state of our community. In America, Black folks are running a relay: we are — our children, and their children are — ultimately dependent on each others’ efforts and the performance of our overall “team.” Self interested individuality can crater this interest. Since almost every Black man in the NFL made the choice to look out for himself and to be grateful for his position (one that he will only have for a very short time) the greater good will not be realized and our collective advancement will be denied.
At some point, the wealthiest Black people will have to not simply feel comfortable that they achieved, but must start to set-up businesses and infrastructures so others can too. For instance, they must start a major publishing company so that Black writer’s real voices can be heard without the sterilizing and neutering edits of an uninformed editor. They must start banks that apply loan standards fairly without red circling or other hoops to jump through because of the color of your skin. And then we must support them. We need to stop buying Nike and buy from the brother’s company – even if it’s a no-name brand (we can make the name big).
We must stop being grateful with the crumbs that society tosses at us. Are we not deserving? Perhaps we must allow ourselves to be dissatisfied, angry, indignant (and realize that it is not an affront to our religious beliefs); and then we must help ourselves. This is the only way that we can be free. Until then, I will be grateful but absolutely unsatisfied. Until then, folks may be happy individually; but we will be stagnant collectively.