My name is Rajega Ratneswaran and I am currently an intern at Harmony Movement completing my Bachelor’s of Social Work 4th year practicum. I have always been interested in learning, broadening my horizons and building on the knowledge I already have. Throughout my years in higher education, this interest has gradually turned into sharing what I have learned, specifically about social justice issues, with others. Seeing young people beginning to understand the power of their collective voice is a prominent reason why I am passionate about working with youth and influencing them to become ambassadors of change. I also believe we are so easily influenced by our environment and surroundings so it is necessary to remain critical, but to not succumb to silence.
With the current climate of politics in the United States, the need for acknowledging and addressing the inequities that minorities have faced is becoming prevalent. A pressing and important issue that has occupied space on our TV screens, newspaper front covers, social media feeds and everyday conversations is the #TakeAKnee/#TakeTheKnee protest. With intense media coverage, provoking statements from individuals in power, and the public racing to pick a side on both ends of the continuum, the underlying reason for protesting has been lost and misconstrued. Before going any further and speaking about our responsibilities as allies to the communities impacted by this issue, it is necessary to understand how and why this demonstration came to be.
Let’s begin by looking at a timeline of where all of this started.
July 2016 | Alton Sterling, a 37-year old Black man from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castle, a 32-year old Black man from Minnesota were shot and killed by the police less than two days apart. These incidents incited street demonstrations across the United States and inspired people in positions of power to use their platform in a positive way.
August 2016 | Colin Kaepernick, NFL Quarterback, remained seated for the singing of the national anthem during a preseason game and later explained it as his way of peacefully protesting systematic oppression. One of the components of systematic oppression is police brutality and violence against unarmed black people/people of colour and the racial inequalities endured by this community. Kaepernick made a strong statement after his gesture stirred controversy by saying that,
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder” (Wyche, 2016).
September 2017 | Current President of the United States, Donald Trump, made inflammatory comments about the protests, specifically Kaepernick, at a rally and said, “Get that SOB off the field right now, he’s fired. He’s fired! That’s total disrespect of our heritage. That’s a total disrespect for everything we stand for” (Willingham, 2017).
September 2017 | Trump’s comments caused uproar amongst the NFL players, athletes from other sports, owners, coaches, and fans. During various games throughout the league, players locked arms or kneeled in support of Kaepernick. However, every protest for social issues comes with opposing viewpoints and the need to distort the root intentions of it. The narrative of this demonstration quickly derailed into a debate about a sign of disrespecting the flag, the national anthem, and President Trump when it has always been about police brutality against the Black community.
As activists, social changemakers, and allies, it is important to remain critical of these social movements. As they gain popularity in the media, they tend to become layered with false information because of opposing political agendas. As allies, we need to put in the effort to learn about every aspect of a movement and continue to reinforce it to those who resist or refuse it. Whether you agree or disagree with the #TakeAKnee gesture, calling out and recognizing racism by its name is imperative. We need to remember what we are fighting for and that is the racial inequalities that exist and are embedded within our institutions, policies, society and our livelihoods. If we don’t identify what we are fighting against, we will lose the power this movement has developed so far. As citizens who live outside of the United States, it is easy to disregard this entire movement and feel comfort because it doesn’t affect us directly. However, it is essential to understand that our own struggles are tied to everyone else’s and to live in a place of unity, we need to understand that when one community is affected by inequities, all of us are.
“Until all of us have made it, none of us have made it” – Rosemary Brown
Willingham, J, A. (2017, September 27). The #takeaknee protests have always been about race. Period. CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/27/us/nfl-anthem-protest-race-trump-trnd/index.html
Wyche, S. (2016, August 27). Colin kaepernick explains why he sat during the national anthem. NFL. Retrieved from http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000691077/article/colin-kaepernick-explains-why-he-sat-during-national-anthem