1966. Fort Worth. Age six.
Back then, a black woman named Geneva would ride the bus each week from – as she said – “the other part of town” and clean our home. She was always nice to me and I really loved her.
“Geneva,” I said, “Know where I got this?” as I showed her my shiny new yellow Tonka Toy dump truck.
“No,” she replied. “Tell me, David.”
“Stole it off a dead N*****.”
I can still envision the sad look on her face – and clearly recall my mother taking me into the bathroom and washing my mouth out with soap. I quickly understood how bad it was… and how much I had hurt this person who knew me since I was a baby.
Last week, the president made divisive comments about NFL players who chose to kneel during the National Anthem, suggesting team owners: “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!” This led to a strong rebuttal from players in several sports, the media and many owners. Yesterday, players stood or kneeled arm-in-arm – including with some of the men who sign their paychecks – in peaceful protest.
The president and many others turned this into respect for the flag and those who serve our country defending it. What many forget is that Colin Kaepernick took a knee to protest African American men being killed by law enforcement officers who didn’t receive punishment for their actions.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he told NFL Media afteward. “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.”
Now is when dialogue and discourse are essential. Yet so many are stuck on ‘disrespecting the flag’ that the real issue – what’s it like to be African American in today’s United States – isn’t being addressed. That needs to change. It’s time to acknowledge injustice exists and do something about it.
If we end up in a better place, while protesting may have cost Kaepernick his career, perhaps it will lead to him being remembered for something much bigger than playing quarterback in the NFL.
Epilogue: We moved to the country when I was eight and Geneva no longer came to our house. Yet she continued to help clean my father’s furniture store for many years. I would see her there often… and she always gave me big hugs. She had long forgotten the inappropriate words of a six-year-old. I never will… and I’m thankful for that.