Dear Michael Rose-Ivey,
You made me cry. I watched your press conference and immediately tried to hunt down some kind of contact information for you because I just wanted you to know how proud I was of your statements in the face of such hostile public pressure. Since I couldn’t find a way to contact you directly, I thought I’d just write you here where maybe someday you’ll find it.
I am a white mom raising a black son and I am ashamed and saddened by how long it took me to understand and believe the things you so eloquently stated. There are issues in this country that can’t be fixed by “pulling up your pants.” It is about more than just personal responsibility, but about realizing the responsibility we all carry for the current state of things. I know this is hard to hear and believe for many people who haven’t been faced with the realities of systemic racism and injustice. Many people will fight against how this changes their view of the world. They want to believe what you’re doing is dividing us, when the reality is the divide already exists and you are asking for us all to acknowledge it. The fact that your quiet act of protest brought out the most vile response from people who would probably say things like, “I’m not racist, but. . . ” is just heartbreaking. But it’s not surprising.
I learned how wrong my little view of race relations was last year when I wrote about what my black son needs from his white friends. This touched a nerve. That post brought people into my world I had never dealt with before. One of those people wrote about what a “thug” my son (who is 9) must be and how my son is the reason this man carries a gun. I did not allow that comment to be publicly posted on my blog, but I have left the little notification that it exists up where I can see it– a reminder that this fight is ongoing and it is frightening to those who have the most to lose.
I have heard it said that your quiet act of protest is divisive, but those people don’t seem to have the same level of outrage about the divisive way this country treats its citizens of color. Your act has been called “disgraceful” by people who seem to have no words of condemnation for the serious issues that caused you to feel like protesting in the first place. I have heard it said that this was not the appropriate time and place– that when you step on the field you represent Nebraska and your own agenda should be left at home. But you knew what you were doing and the response it would get. My hope is that by doing this in such a public way, you have allowed people a window into what life is like for you, a black man living in America. Living in Nebraska.
I’m sad that the 90,000 people who say they love you, want your autograph and cheer you on each week care so little about the issues that actually impact your life. If you were lying on the field after an injury, these are the people who would be actively praying for your health. But when you’re just another black man dealing with the pain and fear of racism, these same people don’t seem to care and are openly outraged that you’ve made them think about it through an act they find offensive. We are a predominately white fan base cheering for a predominately black team and we just want you to win games and not bother us with your personal pain or convictions.
But not everybody feels that way. The words you said matter. The beautiful way you used Scripture to support this gentle act of defiance is just what I needed to help explain to my son why men who look like him are kneeling in prayer on behalf of our country right there on the football field. I respect your right to kneel. I honor your choice. If my son some day chooses to protest through prayer, I will be nothing but proud. And I imagine Collin Kaepernick’s white parents feel the same way. We know our whiteness doesn’t protect our children from the realities of being black in America. We pray that their upbringing in our home never impedes their ability to be compassionate and empathic towards those who are suffering in ways they haven’t experienced. As my mom (a Midwesterner, a proud Swede, a woman with ancestors and relatives who bravely served our country, and a grandmother to a black grandson) said after watching your press conference, “I seriously think our nation would be in a posture for healing its deep wounds, if we ALL knelt to pray for America as the National Anthem is played.”
My allegiance is ultimately not to a king or a kingdom. It is not to a song or a flag. My allegiance is to my God and you are my brother. I am with you and for you, not just as a Husker, but as a human. If I have to pick between my patriotism and my brothers and sisters who are suffering, I pick you. If I could find you today and give you a hug and drop off cookies or a casserole, I would do it. While I don’t know what choices you make in your private life, I heard the words you spoke and they are words of integrity and character. They are the words of a man who I would love for my son to emulate. You are a role model and I am thankful for how you’ve used your platform.
I love my country, but I love it not because of its symbols and songs, but because of the freedom and protection it affords its citizens. You exercised your freedom to draw attention to the differences in how black Americans and white Americans experience life in this beautiful country. I heard you. I hope many more people will hear you, too.
(Lincoln Resident, Husker Fan, Mom)
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Photo via Matt Ryerson Lincoln Journal Star via AP