Written By: Terrence A. Merkerson
“The voice of intelligence is drowned out by the roar of fear. It is ignored by the voice of desire. It is contradicted by the voice of shame. It is biased by hate and extinguished by anger. Most of all it is silenced by ignorance.”
-Karl A. Menninger
I was having a conversation with a colleague of mine (white guy) a few days ago and the topic of Colin Kaepernick came up. I wrote a piece about Kaepernick and the “Black American Paradox” and had this kind of dialogue before, but this was a little different. Now that yet another team in need of a quarterback has seemingly passed on signing Kaepernick (to sign what most consider to be an obvious inferior option), I was interested to hear what defense my colleague would take. Usually, when any conversation with a non-person of color takes a racially or culturally sensitive turn, my immediate impulses are to guard my blackness and prepare to police their whiteness, but because I know this guy (and probably more importantly, he knows I go in for this kinda shit) I decided to soften my guard a little so I can could more acutely feel the impact of his words. He began by clarifying that he agrees that Kaepernick is irrefutably better than 2/3s of the quarterbacks currently signed to NFL rosters (the setup before the sucker punch), but he does not believe Kaepernick is being blackballed. So I explained to him how the ‘disruptive Black voice” has been and continues to be positioned in society and how this serves as another example of how institutional structures punish “disruptive” voices, particularly when that voice is one of a Black man or Black woman in America. While he understood and mostly agreed with my assertions, he refused to move on his position that Kaepernick is being deliberately and systematically blackballed. To quote this colleague, “It’s just football, man. It’s a game people watch for entertainment and I just don’t want to hear that shit, bro. Sports is one of the few spaces in society that I don’t have to make any critical considerations beyond the scope of the game. I just want to drink brews and watch the game.” I replied by saying, “Well, that was a mighty White man thing to say there, bud.” (This statement was accompanied by a standing ovation of slow claps and sided-eyes).
My first thought was to dive into my writing focused on the “shut-up and play” attitude directed toward Black athletes, by White folks and/or institutions controlled by White folks whenever a Black athlete expresses a consciousness, concern or thought beyond the catching, throwing, shooting, and EVEN KICKING of a ball if it in some way affects, affronts or disrupts the institutional model. But because we know that this is much deeper than dollars and cents, I knew there was something else here. So I thought back to the conversation that I had with my colleague and a few of his words still resonated with me…
“I just don’t want to hear that shit…”
That is exactly what he said. As innocent of a statement as it may seem, even while shrouded in personal preference and subjectivity, it is just as dangerous as it is obviously dismissive. The question is WHY did he (and many other people) “just don’t want to hear all that?”
It’s because White folks are beginning to feel as though they are running out of “safe spaces”. By “safe spaces”, I am referring to the physical and non-physical spaces of refuge within American society that White people are not being constantly reminded of their Whiteness. This conception is built around the themes of cultural and racial blindness, invisibility and oblivion (example: I have a white friend that had no idea that Negro League Baseball was ever a thing… Like I had to prove it. Mind blown. SMH). It is no secret that a vast majority of White Americans do not think about race or their Whiteness unless they are directly confronted with it and for most of them, this makes them deathly uncomfortable. People of color don’t mind discussing race because we are constantly confronted with it, but there are exceptions. Both Ray Lewis and Michael Vick spoke out “in support” of Kaepernick by suggesting that he, in one way or another, tone down the “Blackness”. As two sports figures who have faced their own unique (and felonious) challenges, I’m sure that they meant well by offering their “Apologetically-Black” suggestions. But nobody is here for that “let’s not make the White people uncomfortable” shit anymore. There is no growth in comfort and there is no progression in complacency.
So here we are with Kaepernick, in all his Blackness, making White Folks uncomfortable. It takes a certain level of “sociocultural maturity” (I think I may have just coined that phrase… I think that just happened. If I didn’t, somebody let me know, but until then… yeah, that’s all me, big dog.) to have the necessary discourse to expel that discomfort. Unfortunately, those who have the actual power and direct influence to move these kinds of needles are usually the most socioculturally inept. So they do what children and immature people do when they don’t want to deal with something… they ignore it, in hopes that it will go away. The only difference is that institutional structures can MAKE things go away. Hence, the “blackball”. So, we gotta do we always gotta should do… we can’t let that shit slide. We can not compromise our equity and equality for the sake of White comfort. When they “just don’t want to hear that shit”, make them hear it. If they try to ignore you, don’t let them. Remember, continuums create change. Comfort breeds complacency.
Miss me with that apologetic Blackness. I don’t want to hear that shit.
Terrence A. Merkerson is the Founder & Creator of Avenue Fifteen. Terrence earned Bachelor’s Degrees in both Political Science and Gender/Race Studies from the University of Alabama. Terrence also completed Graduate School at the University of Alabama, earning a Master’s Degree in Communication and is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Business Administration at Louisiana State University.
He currently resides in Charlotte, NC.