On Saturday morning, I got up before the sun to run a 5K. I made myself some coffee, real-quick-like washed Jane’s soccer uniform for her game that morning (planning ahead isn’t always my strong suit), and headed over to Avondale Estates to run. The 5K supported the elementary school of one of my very favorite kiddos, so I was extra excited to go and see his family and participate in the race.
I parked my car and headed to check in. Cheerful volunteers beckoned me over. There were no lines to contend with–which was both pretty unusual & pretty rad. Usually, on race day, the lines to pick up race numbers are LONG. But I quickly realized that this inaugural race would be an intimate affair. Cool. I love supporting fledgling efforts.
The weather was a bit chilly, so I was hanging around in the gymnasium instead of outside. And that’s when it happened. I finally focused on the singing that had previously been kind of melodic background noise. I realized that it was a choir. And that they were practicing the national anthem.
DAMN. They sure as hell were going to sing the national anthem before this 5K.
I have strong feelings about taking a knee during the national anthem. As in, there is no way in hell I am going to be anywhere near the national anthem and NOT take a knee. Because systemic racism. Because the murder of black and brown people at the hands of police officers. Because white supremacy. Because freedoms that should apply to all actually only apply to some. Right now, our country is wrong on so many levels. I see that. I feel it. And I have a responsibility to respond.
So, here I am, in a neighborhood that is not my own, faced with the necessity of taking a knee during the national anthem. Did I mention this was a really small crowd? It wasn’t like no one would notice. Oh, they’d notice all right. And as strongly as I feel about taking a knee–well, folks feel just as strongly on the other side. Sometimes their feelings involve death threats. So, yeah, I was a little nervous about this whole situation.
But the first bars of the national anthem rang out, and I put my knee on that asphalt. It hurt like hell. And I was shaking like a leaf. As I knelt there with my head down, tears stung my eyes as I thought about all the professional athletes who have taken a knee, the performers, the high school kids… Because that shit is BRAVE. When you’ve got an audience that matters to you–whether its millions of football fans or hundreds of folks gathered for a high school sporting event–it is wrenchingly frightening to take an unpopular stand. There is peril in telling the vocal majority that they are wrong. But they are. They are wrong. And the people who stand up in big and small ways–who call out systemic racism, who reject white supremacy, who really believe that we are not truly free until ALL OF US are free–they deserve our commendation and our respect. Kneeling there, marveling at how long the national anthem is (it’s real, real long), I prayed for every person who’d been brave enough to take a knee. I prayed for their safety, their strength, and their continued conviction.
At the end of the national anthem, some woman behind me said “Amen” (that’s a problem for another day, this God & country business), I got up and ran my race. People probably felt irked by me. Or made assumptions about my “white guilt” (of which I have none, by the way. Guilt is useless. Action trumps guilt every time). Or maybe they didn’t notice me at all–people, including myself, can be way too ego-centric, always assuming folks are talking about, looking at, or focusing on them. So maybe no one even noticed.
But I noticed. And every step I take to disentangle myself from white supremacy, to stamp out the racism that I’ve been exposed to all my life (as we all have), to create something different for my daughter’s future–that is important. Ending racism will happen in momentous moments and in seemingly inconsequential ones. But, as a white woman, I know I have to take steps every day to reject racism. My liberation is tied up in this, too.