How I Explained the Reason Behind Kneeling and CRT to my White Friend

Recently, I had a conversation with someone I used to consider a friend. See, we had spent over a year together peacefully protesting the state-created medical monopoly, Ballad Health. We faced a lot of challenges together and therefore, were somewhat close… or so one would have thought.

Fast forward to early 2020 when we pack up the protest camp after 257 days outside the hospital, head home, and then COVID-19 hits. (There’s not really much you can accomplish protesting unsafe healthcare in the middle of a global pandemic, ya know.)

With the healthcare issue at a significant pause, I went back to broadcasting (I do livestreams and a podcast) about issues I was previously covering: racial injustice, LGBTQIA+ rights, women's rights, etc.

Then in April and May of 2020, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd are murdered. (I can safely say that now because their killers have been found guilty of what we all knew was murder when we saw the videos.) With these cases receiving global attention, I took this opportunity to share much of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) experience on my social media and broadcasts.

Suddenly, I notice that a good number of my “supporters” who had been so vocal in my defense during the peaceful protest to save their healthcare either left or were now silent… I mean, crickets 🦗 on my posts about these subjects.

Even those who were so-called “friends”, like the one I spoke with the other day, were gone.

Now, in all honesty, this did not come as a shock to me.

I mean, this is northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia where the white population accounts for approximately 95% of the region. It’s the place where my brother was elected “Nigger of the Year” in elementary school during mock elections.

It’s the place where the KKK still feels comfortable riding through town and tossing out ziplock bags with invitations to join their fight against “Mexican drug cartels, CRT, and Antifa. Hell, they’ll even show up to protest in full Ku Klux Klan attire shouting “White Power”.

Members of the Ku Klux Klan rally in front of the Scott County Courthouse in Gate City on Saturday. Photo by Ned Jilton II.

So yeah, the absence and silence of many of these folks wasn’t surprising.

Fast forward to a few days ago when I spoke to this “friend” for the first time in over a year. (I quit communicating shortly after she texted me as she rode by my apartment in a Trump parade.) 🤦‍♀️

She’s running for county mayor and asked me had I seen the announcement. I told her that I had and that I had already known about it. I also shared that I was concerned about the candidates in the region, their views, and the other state and national politicians they aligned themselves with.

After a conversation about TN Congresswoman Diana Harshbarger and her husband’s plea deal around their company’s healthcare fraud, Trump’s refusal to apologize for his ad calling for the death of the now exonerated Central Park Five, and her fellow Sullivan County Commissioner, Mark Vance’s social media page posts regarding white supremacy and the Women’s March, we finally got to the meat of the matter.

She “doesn’t see color” and would do the “right thing for everybody no matter what race they are”.

Well, she was born and raised in a county that is 97% white and comes from a fairly affluent family (dare I say “privileged”) — I wouldn’t expect her to see things through any other lens than that of an upperclass white woman in rural Tennessee.

Which is why it matters that she bailed on our friendship.

It matters that she (and many others) stopped listening when the subject was about something that impacts me and my family instead of their healthcare.

I explained to her that I don’t have the luxury of not seeing color or not paying attention to policing issues and politics when my biracial grandson is 2.5 times more likely to die at the hands of police than her white son. (Black Americans are 3.5 times more likely than white Americans.)

I explained to her that approximately 80–88% of the murders committed against white people are committed by other white people (similar to Black statistics) and yet, we never hear the term “white on white crime”.

I told her about the officer who stood over the body of Sean Reed after fatally shooting him while he was running away and joked saying “I think it’s going to be a closed casket homie”.

To all of these things she said they were horrible or awful… so I took it a step further.

I asked her if she’d ever heard the interview of Lee Atwater.

She had not. So I tell her.

Lee Atwater was a high-powered Republican political consultant who worked in the Reagan White House. In a 1981 interview, he explains how Republican politicians can gain the votes of racists while not sounding like racists themselves.

He says:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

And then I ask if she’d ever heard about this before. In her American History class, in her Political Science class, or at the Reagan Day Political Dinners, had anyone ever told her that Republican politicians actually had conversations around how to win racists votes, pass legislation that hurt Blacks, and not appear racist themselves.

They had not.

I asked her why this isn’t being taught. Why would it be considered Critical Race Theory? Why are Black people wrong for wanting this truth to be told?

And why in the world wouldn’t we be justified in peacefully taking a knee in protest of the country we love whose public servants act like this?

She was at a loss for words somewhat… and then she said that they wouldn’t be wrong.

So, I asked if she supported the local East Tennessee State University boys basketball team when they kneeled before their game. (In full transparency, I knew the answer because I’d seen her post.)

PHOTO: The ETSU men’s basketball team kneels prior to the game at Chattanooga on Feb. 15, 2021. (Jesse Krull/WJHL)

She said that she had felt they were disrespecting the flag and the veterans who fought for it.

First, I’m a veteran and I didn’t fight for a flag. I served for the protection and freedom of the people — ALL people.

So, I asked again… now that she sees just a few things through the lens of MY experience, why have these things — obvious privilege- been labeled “CRT”, why has the state passed laws against teaching it, and why have teachers like Matthew Hawn been fired for telling the truth about it?

Not to my surprise, she didn’t have an answer.

She did ask for the links to the things I shared with her so, there’s that.

The point I want to make is that we can’t afford to not see color. We must see color, the experiences it brings, and then take action to correct them.

If you don’t see my color, you don’t see a large part of my experience and if you miss that, you miss a significant piece of what makes me, me.

You might wonder if after our conversation, she truly gets it. That’s not for me to say and I may never truly know. I will simply say that I did more than my part and the emotional labor of that conversation left me drained. And yet, here I am… doing it some more.

Why?

Because I have hope that things are changing.

And the more people know, the more likely they are to understand. Understanding creates empathy.

Empathy + Understanding = Compassion.

And this world could use a lot more of that.

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