by Scott Jeffries
The following is an opinion piece, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Timbers Army or the 107ist Board of Directors.
We have all heard endlessly about the Colin Kaepernick situation. Everyone has an opinion and there are no hot takes left to give. I’m not here to talk about Colin Kaepernick, or to say what I think about Colin Kaepernick, or to hear what you think about Colin Kaepernick. Colin Kaepernick.
I am here, however, to talk about what Colin Kaepernick is talking about, which is that, well, I’ll justquote him: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” This is an issue that has been raised time and time again, but this time it was done by a polarizing public figure in a provocative way and so now everyone would rather debate about the person taking the action rather than the statement he was making. This week, Washington Spirit owner Bill Lynch decided to play the national anthem before the teams had entered the field, to prevent Seattle Reign and U.S. National Team star Megan Rapinoe from engaging in the same protest.
As a show of solidarity for the cause they are supporting, I intend to sit for the National Anthem in the Timbers Army on Saturday. I am not protesting the anthem specifically, but this is the form that their protest has taken and so this is how I too will protest. I protest not only the unequal treatment of African Americans in this country but also the attempts to marginalize the voices of those drawing attention to it. If critics of Kaepernick and Rapinoe truly supported freedom, they would support the right to silent protest. If they truly do not see the inequality in our society, they are either blissfully sheltered or willfully ignorant.
As a white person, I can never fully grasp the struggles black Americans face, but I can understand history and see its effects. Slavery begat Jim Crow which begat redlining which begat white flight which begat gentrification. African Americans face higher unemployment, lower educational attainment, and live in more segregated neighborhoods with higher crime rates. They make lower incomes, accumulate less wealth, and buy fewer homes, which multiplies across generations. The wealth gap is widening to the point where it would take the average black family 228 years to accumulate the same wealth as the average white family today. Schools are rapidly resegregating to levels not seen since the Civil Rights era. The Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act which unleashed a flood of new restrictions targeting low-income, minority voters, only the most blatantly racist of which were struck down.
And, of course, the main reason that Kaepernick is protesting, and the reason that many more before him have been protesting, is the unequal treatment of black people by law enforcement. It is a fact thatblack people are more likely than white people to be arrested and subjected to physical force for the same crimes. Black people are more likely to be arrested for selling or possessing drugs than white people, despite the fact that white people do both of these things at the same rate or more. Mandatory minimum sentencing, three-strike laws, and race-based drug enforcement create a cycle where a black person is more likely to go to prison, which impacts their ability to find legitimate work when they get out, which in turn makes it more likely that they will return to prison. It tears families apart, traps communities in poverty, and reinforces the bias that law enforcement has against black people. And it is impossible to ignore the steady flow of shootings and deaths of black men by police in situations where a white person surely would have walked away alive, if they had even been stopped in the first place. If you’re wondering why this might have started with a 49ers player, google “SFPD racist texts”.
I can’t help but note that we live in an incredibly white city and are an incredibly white fan base. Portland’s past and present is a discussion for another time, but we cannot let ourselves be complacent in our little bubble of whiteness, full of good intentions but no action, shielded from the real injustice in the world, even the real injustice in our city as we increasingly take over Albina-Mississippi and push our racist legacy to 82nd Avenue and beyond, out of sight and out of mind. I am surprised by how many young Portlanders don’t even know what Albina means, beyond the name of a street. If you want a sobering history of racism in Portland, read Bleeding Albina. It might change the way you look at our city.
And so, in light of all of this, I will neither stand nor sing on Saturday. I will not judge those who do, or make assumptions about their motivations or beliefs, just as I would not want anyone to judge or assume anything about me because of the action I am taking. This is just one way to express something that many (hopefully all) of us feel, but it is not the only way, and it might not feel appropriate to some. I don’t do it to disrespect our country. I stand and sing loudly every game, then jubilantly toss the shreds of the program I’d so dutifully torn apart. Singing the national anthem at our MLS home opener is one of my favorite memories as a Timbers fan. This will be the first time I have not sung the anthem and it’s not a decision I make lightly. I am not anti-American, but I am also against blind worship, and we as Americans take far too much pride in ourselves to ever honestly assess our faults. I believe we can do better, but first we have to acknowledge that we need to.