“A moth­er­less child”

South Florida Times - - OPINION - NFL protests led by Colin Kaeper­nick Yo­hance A. Pet­tis, Esq., ypet­tis­law@ya­hoo.com is an As­sis­tant U.S. At­tor­ney in the Mid­dle Dis­trict of Florida.

The NFL protests led by Colin Kaeper­nick and Amer­ica’s re­ac­tion serves as a sad re­minder of an old Ne­gro spir­i­tual en­ti­tled, “Some­times I feel like a Moth­er­less Child.” De­spite Mr. Kaeper­nick and other NFL ath­letes hav­ing ex­pressly stated what and why they are protest­ing, the fo­cus con­tin­ues to be on the man­ner of their protest. This mis­placed fo­cus causes one to won­der whether Amer­ica’s ma­ter­nal in­stinct when it comes to is­sues con­cern­ing African Amer­i­cans is fad­ing.

A sound rec­og­nized by ev­ery­one. A sound so dis­tinct, that it causes any­one within earshot to pause. A child’s cry. Any mother will tell you that she can rec­og­nize the dis­tinct sound of her child’s cry no mat­ter how deaf­en­ing the sur­round­ing sounds. A mother will con­fi­dently tell you that she can rec­og­nize her child’s cry in the mid­dle of Times Square. A mother can awaken from the deep­est sleep upon hear­ing her child’s cry.

What is univer­sal about a child’s cry is a mother’s re­ac­tion to it. A mother’s first thought is “why is my child cry­ing?” After a sec­ond of re­flec­tion, a mother’s in­stinct causes her to quickly de­ter­mine all the pos­si­ble causes that are mak­ing th­ese tears stream down her child’s cheek.“Is my child hun­gry or thirsty?” “Is some­thing caus­ing pain?” “Is it fear?”

What­ever the cause, it is a mother’s in­stinct that chan­nels all at­ten­tion to seek­ing im­me­di­ate res­o­lu­tion. Once re­solved, the mother spends the min­utes that fol­low com­fort­ing and re­as­sur­ing her child that she is there and what­ever caused the pain or fear is gone.

Another un­de­ni­able trait of a mother is her re­sponse to her child’s cry. Never will a mother say, “why are you cry­ing in that man­ner?” A mother does not come to the child and say, “I don’t like the way you are cry­ing, you need to cry a dif­fer­ent way.” A mother does not say, “look at how Johnny cries, you should cry like him.” A mother may also not have the lux­ury of telling her child, “cry some other time, just not now.” A mother’s fo­cus is not the man­ner of her child’s cry, but the cause.

Since the 2016 NFL sea­son, crit­ics of Colin Kaeper­nick have taken is­sue with the man­ner in which he protested. As we’ve seen with the cur­rent NFL sea­son, more and more play­ers have joined Mr. Kaeper­nick in “tak­ing a knee” and protest­ing the in­equal­ity and in­jus­tices that are plagu­ing the African-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity. Con­sis­tently, we see protest ob­jec­tors an­gered and out­raged over this man­ner of protest with many peo­ple sug­gest­ing, “you can protest, just don’t do it in a man­ner that dis­re­spects the flag and the mil­i­tary.” Protest ob­jec­tors unashamedly tell ath­letes to “fo­cus on foot­ball” or “protest on your own time.” Mr. Kaeper­nick and his fel­low ath­letes have told Amer­ica ex­actly why they are in pain; that they hunger for equal­ity and thirst for jus­tice, yet Amer­ica con­tin­ues to fo­cus on the man­ner of their cry.

For cen­turies, African-Amer­i­cans have cried aloud, yearn­ing for Amer­ica’s com­pas­sion and re­as­sur­ance that she hears the cries and is here to put an end to what­ever the cause. Sadly, due to Amer­ica’s re­luc­tance to ad­dress the cause of the cries, for cen­turies African-Amer­i­cans felt and con­tinue to feel like Amer­ica’s “Moth­er­less Child.”

The ath­letes protest­ing to­day make it clear that their protest is not against the Amer­i­can flag, the pledge of al­le­giance, or the Na­tional An­them, yet in­di­vid­u­als re­main stead­fast in try­ing to re­shape the protest to be against some­thing it is not – the Amer­i­can flag.

The first doc­u­mented us­age of the Amer­i­can flag was in 1792. The pledge of al­le­giance was first writ­ten in 1892. Pe­ri­ods that saw slav­ery and Jim Crow rav­age the na­tion. For 178 years (1792-1970), in­di­vid­u­als in our great coun­try hon­ored and pledged al­le­giance to the Amer­i­can flag while at the same time putting an en­tire race of peo­ple through slav­ery, Jim Crow and Civil Rights. This begs the ques­tion, “who hon­ored the pledge more?” The per­son who merely re­cited the words that so elo­quently end with “with lib­erty and jus­tice for all,” while at the same time bru­tal­iz­ing an en­tire race or is it the per­son who ac­tu­ally fought for lib­erty and jus­tice for all?

It is not the abil­ity to say the pledge and stand in honor of it that makes you an Amer­i­can, as any­one can do that. It is the ac­tion that you take in en­sur­ing that those words, “with lib­erty and jus­tice for all” are not empty. One can spec­u­late that Eu­gene “Bull” Con­nor or Sher­iff Jim Clarke stood, and in good form, placed their hand over their heart at ev­ery oc­ca­sion it was war­ranted. One can go fur­ther and guess that they re­cited with ease the words of the pledge of al­le­giance and mouthed the words to the Star Span­gled Ban­ner. Did that make them more of an Amer­i­can pa­triot than the civil rights ac­tivists and vic­tims who were on the re­ceiv­ing end of their dis­crim­i­na­tory or­ders and billy clubs while fight­ing for lib­erty and jus­tice for all?

The an­swer is a re­sound­ing no! For the flag, the pledge, and the an­them are worth noth­ing if in­di­vid­u­als do not ad­here to the prin­ci­ples they rep­re­sent. An ex­am­ple of this is seen in the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion. The 15th Amend­ment, rat­i­fied in 1870, de­clared that the “right of cit­i­zens of the United States to vote shall not be de­nied or abridged by the United States or by any state on ac­count of race, color, or pre­vi­ous con­di­tion of servi­tude.” From 1870 to the en­act­ment of the Vot­ing Rights Act in 1965, the 15th Amend­ment was noth­ing more than words on pa­per, as those prin­ci­ples were not ad­hered to. Declar­ing that all men are cre­ated equal, while pow­er­ful and mov­ing, is with­out sub­stance and truth un­less all men are in­deed treated as though they are cre­ated equal.

As James Bald­win once said,“I love Amer­ica more than any other coun­try in this world, and, ex­actly for this rea­son, I in­sist on the right to crit­i­cize her per­pet­u­ally.”

It may come as great sur­prise that peo­ple in this coun­try want Amer­ica in all her glory to be per­fect. While per­fec­tion may ul­ti­mately be unattain­able, that does not mean we as Amer­i­cans stop try­ing. We as Amer­i­cans must shine the spotlight on those in­jus­tices that do not live up to the prin­ci­ples upon which this coun­try was founded.There are times when a mother knows that she may not im­me­di­ately be able to stop the pain that causes her child to cry, but a mother will not stop try­ing at all costs. Con­tact Us 954.356.9360 • 2701 W Oak­land Park Blvd, Suite 320 • Oak­land Park, FL 33311 • www.SFLTimes.com


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