Saturday, August 25, 2018


A couple of hours ago, I saw this on the front page of the New York Times website:

To make an obvious point: That's not an opinion. It's a fact.

Kashana Cauley's op-ed does enter the realm of opinion -- she wants us to recognize the demonstrations as part of a long history of black protest in search of equal justice, and she also wants us to stop referring to them as "anthem protests."
A number of news organizations have mischaracterized the protests as “anthem protests,” and President Trump has gone further, saying they just “wanted to show their ‘outrage’ at something that most of them are unable to define.” He keeps coming back to this issue over and over.

Most of those players are black men. They have lived with the reality of police brutality their whole lives. This slander is an insult to them. But even if everyone who frames the kneeling as “anthem protests” is unintentionally making a mistake, it’s a harmful one.
I wouldn't characterize the phrase "anthem protests" as a mistake or a deliberate mischaracterization -- syntactically, it's not very different from "lunch counter protests," a phrase you'll find used in reference to civil rights era sit-ins even in the black press.

No one hears "lunch counter protests" and believes that the demonstrators were protesting the existence of the lunch counters. But many people seem to believe that the NFL protesters are demonstrating against the national anthem.

Because that's the case, I agree with Cauley that the phrase should be avoided. I think news organizations should consider banning it, the way, for instance, AP's stylebook bans "pro-life" and "pro-abortion." (AP writers are told to use "anti-abortion" and "pro-abortion rights" instead.)

But why is "anthem protests" misleading when "lunch counter protests" isn't? I think it's because much of white America doesn't acknowledge the existence of the injustice being protested.

Many -- most? -- white Americans don't pay attention to stories of police brutality, or don't believe them, or believe every story is an isolated incident, or believe that the police treat white people just as badly, or believe that all the violence is a justifiable response to people who don't show police "the proper respect," or believe that the police are categorically justified in mistreating African-Americans because African-Americans are a criminal class. (Recall the recent incident in which a white man told the cops who were arresting him, "You're treating me like a fucking black person!")

So of course many whites believe the people who tell them that the players' intent is to show disrespect for the flag, or for the troops (even when there are no troops at the stadium), or for America, or for the anthem itself.

I think much of white America will never understand the point of these protests -- which makes me wonder whether they've outlived their usefulness. But avoiding the use of the phrase "anthem protests" might lead to a some greater degree of comprehension.

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