While white America reckons with Black Lives Matter, some feel marginalized

While white America reckons with Black Lives Matter, some feel marginalized
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The recent scenes of largely white crowds across the world demonstrating in support of Black Lives Matter in the wake of George Floyd’s death are reminiscent of another watershed moment in America: The 1960s civil rights revolution, in which white America finally awakened to the plight of blacks in this country. What followed was an upheaval in American society that forever changed the political landscape.

While many in America see this latest tragedy as grounds for a much-needed racial reckoning, some in the white community consider anti-racism protests to be a condemnation and repudiation of white identity. In fact, the liberal media in some instances have attempted to question whether whites deserve to be involved in the conversation at all. An opinion piece published in the Washington Post last week urged whites to “shut-up and listen,” and the author even suggested that the overwhelming social media support on behalf of whites for civil justice was co-opting the Black Lives Matter movement in harmful ways.  

Others have questioned whether the backlash against police brutality has marginalized whites while promoting an anti-racism agenda that ignores the progress and promise America has experienced over the course of the post-civil rights era. After all, if whites are so bad, how could white voters have elected a black president — twice?

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But the dynamics of alienation are particularly stark among an older generation of whites who see their power and status challenged by an increasingly diverse, gender-balanced power structure in America. And it often comes across in very blunt terms. A recent episode was when a white, retired couple was sitting on their couch, watching the news and discussing the recent events surrounding Black Lives Matter. Unbeknownst to them, one of their phones was broadcasting the conversation over Facebook Live: “I’ve got the emails about how we’re supporting and we need to fix this problem, [expletive] you,” said retired Navy captain and Naval Academy Alumni Board member Scott Bethmann. 

Bethmann objected to the fact that organizations felt a necessity to publicly align themselves with Black Lives Matter — even when they themselves had done nothing wrong: “So all the white people have to say something nice to the black [expletive] that works in the office. But the black [expletive] don’t get fired. It’s [expletive]. Management’s going to fire the white people. … The white [expletive] can’t say anything; that’s the point we’re making here.”

Bethmann has apologized for the comments. While his use of racial slurs is certainly condemnable, his broader point — that organizations and leaders feel coerced into making a politically correct statement on the controversy du jour — resonates with many whites. Bethmann’s candid comments also reflect a frustration of feeling that his voice will not be heard if he does not agree with the current media narrative.

Even more alarming is the knee-jerk reaction to deface and dismantle Confederate flags and other historical monuments. Symbolically kicking the dead does not solve the problems of racism and police corruption that are very much still alive. Instead, tearing down monuments may only further alienate those who, like the Bethmanns, are successful, politically connected whites in positions of power and influence — and whose assistance will be greatly needed if we are to create additional leadership opportunities for blacks and other minorities in the military and law enforcement. 

We should not require them to assert their allegiance to Black Lives Matter or demand they kneel in solidarity with striking athletes. We should ask that they use their positions of influence and stature to open the doors to more inclusion and opportunity. This is something they likely would be only too eager to do, if constructively engaged. The best way to defeat an enemy, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, is to convert him into an ally.

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What is also obvious is that Bethmann is not alone in his sentiments. One of the most contentious controversies over the past few years has been the battle over the meaning of national anthem protests at professional sports events, used as a tactic to bring attention to the issue of police brutality. Proponents of the protests, most notably Colin Kaepernick, have insisted that taking a knee during the national anthem was not about disrespecting the flag but about holding America to its unkept promise of equal treatment under the law for African Americans. But others, initially including NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, have attempted to cast the issue as President TrumpDonald John TrumpSteele Dossier sub-source was subject of FBI counterintelligence probe Pelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' Trump 'no longer angry' at Romney because of Supreme Court stance MORE does: in terms of symbolizing respect for the service and sacrifice of America’s veterans and front-line law enforcement. This culture war has raged for years, and recently came back into focus in the aftermath of the George Floyd tragedy.

When asked how the NFL should respond to renewed calls by players for on-field gestures to protest police brutality, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees waded full-tilt into the controversy by stating that he would “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America.” Brees’s statement in light of the current climate provoked immediate backlash against him, even among his teammates. But this is a stance that Brees consistently has taken.

Brees reportedly is a well-liked, respected leader in a locker room where most of the players are African Americans. He has contributed significantly to charitable causes in New Orleans, specifically those which benefit poor and black children. He is, for better or worse, no Donald Trump. And so, for him to get swept up in the furor around Black Lives Matter is a telling sign of the times. The larger point here is that Drew Brees dared to speak his opinion — he did not just shut up. Though he was challenged, he also responded in subsequent statements that he was willing to listen to the perspective of his black friends and supporters, and stand in solidarity with them in their quest for equal justice.

Notably, however, Brees did not repudiate his stance on respecting the flag. Nor did he have to do so to show great humility and compassion towards his teammates. Brees can have his own opinion and deeply empathize with the plight of others. He can stand for what he believes and permit others to kneel for their beliefs — without driving a stake of division through the heart of unity he has engendered over his career as a team leader. Brees’s conduct exemplifies a clear path forward towards healing our country’s divides and making progress together. 

Armstrong Williams (@ARightSide) is the owner and manager of Howard Stirk Holdings I & II Broadcast Television Stations and the 2016 Multicultural Media Broadcast Owner of the Year. He is the author of “Reawakening Virtues.”