Kneeling to Take a Stand
I’ve never really distinguished between my feminist and activist identities. They’ve always been one in the same––my feminism inspires my activism, and thus they are not two distinct parts of me. As I’ve grown, I’ve gained more awareness about important social justice issues both inside and outside the feminist movement, one example being police brutality.
Throughout the past three years, there has been a huge increase in headlines about unarmed African Americans shot and killed by the police. This has galvanized masses of people and resulted in a call to action that led to the establishment of the Black Lives Matter movement. Not long after, the movement seeped its way into every corner of society––including sports. Colin Kaepernick, the ex-quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, made a clear statement when he knelt to the ground, head held high, as the words of the nation anthem rang through the stadium. He refused to stand up in pride for a country he does not have any pride in––a country that turns a blind eye to racism and systemic oppression every day.
The fact that this issue entered the realm of sports opened the conversation to a much broader group of people, many of whom normally wouldn’t be concerned with this. One of these people is my brother. We have a pretty average sibling relationship; he annoys me to my wit's end, but I love him. He is also very opinionated and argumentative, as many teenage boys are. We were in the car a few weeks ago when he played a song by XXXTentacion, a rapper famously accused of domestic violence in 2016 and is currently serving jail time. I pointed this out to him, arguing that by streaming his music, he’s supporting someone who’s committed such egregious acts.
“Why should you care?” he asked. “He just has good music that I like. It has nothing to do with his personal life.” We went back and forth, arguing about whether or not you should be able to separate the art from the artist. My dad interjected. “What about Ray Rice? Should he have been able to get a job after his altercation? What about Michael Vick? Should football players who commit these crimes continue to get signed, just because they’re good?”
“Yes! Of course!” my brother said incredulously. “It’s up to the team how they want to handle the player's history.”
“Okay, fair,” my dad replied, “but what about Colin Kaepernick? No one will sign him. He didn’t do anything illegal, just stood up for what he believed in.” My brother sputtered, at a loss for words. I spent the rest of the car ride contemplating. My dad was absolutely right. There are so many famous athletes who have done terrible and illegal things who continue to play and get signed, but Kaepernick’s career was essentially ruined by his peaceful protest. I was angry, but not sure why. After all, these are issues that have never personally affected me.
So why do I care so much? I care because being an activist means speaking up and taking action against injustice, even when it’s not aimed at you personally. As someone with a strong sense of empathy, seeing people struggle affects me greatly. I know that as a white, upper middle-class woman I have privilege, and it’s my responsibility to both wield that privilege responsibly, and, as a writer, work to dismantle the systems that grant me that unfair advantage.
When it comes down to it, the issue surrounding Kaepernick’s initiative is one about the right to peaceful protest. This right is a fundamental one––when it is taken away from one, it affects and should concern society as a whole. Kaepernick’s free agent status has effectively silenced him. He no longer has a platform for his cause, but we have the power to change that. We can join in solidarity with the players across the NFL and take a knee. We can continue what Kaepernick started by simply talking about these issues––getting them on people’s minds and awakening an anger they did not know they had for a system they did no know existed. He laid the groundwork. Now it is our responsibility to ensure it was not for nothing.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Harris, Rachel. "Kneeling to Take a Stand." 26 February 2018. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on June 2, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/kneeling-to-take-stand>.
Love this, Rachel! It gave me shivers! Such powerful and moving words!