DeMarco: What Gwen Berry does for America

The Op-Ed Page

This is a view of the giant American flag in the parking lot of Shuler’s BBQ.

This is a view of the giant American flag in the parking lot of Shuler’s BBQ.

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

Many people are rightly offended by hammer-thrower Gwen Berry’s disrespect of the American flag after her third-place finish in the U.S. Olympic Trials on June 26. The response from certain sectors was swift and predictable. Ted Cruz castigated Berry on Twitter, asking “Why does the Left hate America?” You’re shocked, I know.

But in addition to flame-throwing politicians, many fair-minded Americans expressed legitimate displeasure. In addition to scorning the flag, Berry was criticized for self-aggrandizement and for failure to understand her role as a member of the U.S. Olympic team and as an ambassador to the world.

I think all those criticisms are fair. It is reasonable to hold the flag as sacred and to be protective of what it represents to you and your fellow citizens. Many people see disrespect and desecration of the flag as unforgiveable sins. This is the same flag, they argue, that led soldiers into battle and represents the freedom for which so many have died.

I have a less rigid view of the flag, and one that has changed over the last decade or so. For me, the flag represents America, both its great strengths and its deep flaws. When I look at the flag I see both sides. One side represents our ideals, our desire to be Reagan’s “shining city on a hill.” On the other side are the many American mistakes and cruelties.

This two-sided view came naturally with the Confederate flag. From the moment I was old enough to be able to comprehend the realities of the Civil War, seeing that flag unsettled me. The bumper sticker defense of proponents was “Heritage not Hate.” But for me it was always “Heritage and Hate.” I understood what Confederate flag advocates were seeing on the front side of the flag – the bravery of Southerners who refused to capitulate to what they viewed as a tyrannical federal government. But I, along with many others, saw on the back side of the flag the horrors of slavery.

In contrast to my understanding of the Confederate flag, my current faceted view of the American flag was not immediate. For me and my family, America has been the land of opportunity promised by Lady Liberty, who greeted my paternal grandfather when he immigrated from Sicily. The flag, for most of my life, has been a symbol of unalloyed pride and devotion. Massive American flags that some businesses fly never fail to inspire (the closest one to me is in front of Shuler’s BBQ near Latta (worth the trip!)).

But over the past decade, I’ve become gradually aware that my wholesome view of Old Glory was not universally held. My first epiphany around my unexamined patriotism came with the Pledge of Allegiance. After repeating it for years, I finally thought about the last line from the perspective of someone whose family had not had the opportunities that my parents and grandparents did. If my ancestors had been born with exactly the same intellect and skills, but been Southern blacks, my view of America would be less sanguine, and “liberty and justice for all” might induce anger for America’s unfulfilled promises rather than pride. When I had that small but significant revelation, I had to do some soul-searching about my lazy self-satisfaction. Did it change my love for my country? Not one bit. But it has changed my understanding of what America has meant to people who don’t look like me.

Speaking of people who don’t look like me, let’s return to Gwen Berry. Berry is a powerful woman who is taller, stronger, and braver than I. She is an exhibitionist who wears lipstick like war paint. I admire her athletic ability as I do that of DeAnna Price and Brooke Andersen (who finished first and second in the competition, respectively). I think Berry made an impulsive and self-destructive decision to turn her back on the flag. It was the wrong time and place. What bothers me most is that it was likely ineffective. Indeed, it may have hurt her cause more than it helped. But part of me is glad she did it. Here are my reasons:

First, her actions say to me that she believes in America’s capacity for change and improvement. You don’t take a stand like she did for a lost cause. But the pace of change in America is slow, and she is impatient. “America is the greatest country in the world,” she said. “We are capable of fixing these issues. I am tired of talking about them. I won’t do it anymore.” What do you do when you are tired of talking? You act.

Second, she made a sacrifice to promote her beliefs about America. She is not unique in this regard. America’s men and women in uniform do this daily. But few of us act on our beliefs in ways that put our reputation and careers at risk. Berry states her motivation was “to represent my communities and my people, and those that have died at the hands of police brutality, those that have died to this systemic racism.”

Third, the greatness of America lies not in our reverence for the flag, but our reverence for the freedom it represents. Some people are incensed by protesters who burn the American flag. And my first thought when I see images of the flag on fire is “Don’t do that. It’s disrespectful and not likely to help your cause.” But my second thought is, “I’m glad I live in country where that kind repulsive expression is allowed.” And to know if America is truly still that country, we must regularly be put to the test.

So I thank Berry for testing us, and for America once again passing the test. No one is calling for her to be jailed, although some have suggested, with some merit, that she be banned from the Olympic team. My hope for Berry is that she will represent America well in Tokyo. If she makes the medal stand, I would advise her not to use it as a protest venue. The name recognition she has gained through her gesture at home will allow her to promote anti-racism in more effective ways.

Dr. DeMarco is a physician who lives in Marion, and a long-time reader of this blog.

40 thoughts on “DeMarco: What Gwen Berry does for America

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    OK, I’m going to break my own new rule here about letting other folks respond to Paul first, because looking at the day I have ahead of me, it seems unlikely I’ll get back to it later. I just have this one, tiny slice of time.

    But I don’t really have much to say. Frankly, I haven’t given this absurd situation much thought. I’m not particularly offended by Ms. Berry’s display of petulance. In fact, when I saw Paul’s topic, I had to Google to find out who she was. It was the same reaction I had when Bryan tweeted about her the other day. Despite Bryan’s tweet earlier, I promptly forgot her again. Here’s Bryan’s tweet:

    And here’s how I responded:

    “She thought she was competing for the honor of being on Luxembourg’s team. Perfectly understandable…”

    I replied, and quickly moved on.

    Part of my lack of involvement results from the absurdity of that image (which, Paul, I did not use with your piece because I think it belongs to Getty Images, which I think is rather particular about being paid, Fair Use or not). It is an image not of any particular force; she appears to be displaying petulance about the same way a two-year-old would. It looks rather comical.

    To me, it’s light years away from an image I did find offensive — the clenched-fist stance in Mexico City in 1968. That offended me then, and it does now. But at least those guys kept their dignity in doing it. They were expressing themselves, not pouting because they were “pissed” to learn that standing on a platform and honoring the flag of the country they were representing was part of the deal. They came ready.

    She just looks like someone who, despite all that training preparing for the moment, doesn’t seem to understand at all what’s going on. As I said in my reply to the tweet, it appears to have been a great surprise to her that she had been competing for the honor of representing her country, as opposed to some other country.

    So her gesture seems to me ridiculous. So does Ted Cruz’ response. So does the response of people on the left who seem to regard her as some sort of heroine (or, if you’re one of those folks on the left who for reasons that still puzzle me avoids terms that indicate that the subject is female, some sort of “hero”).

    It’s like everyone has lost all dignity here. And this stuff is tiresome…

    Reply
  2. Guy

    I am far more offended by the redneck Trumpists I saw at Lake Murray this weekend who have co-opted the flag into wife beaters, dew rags, tee-shirts and onesies. A veritable sea of fat, smelly, uneducated and drunk people debasing themselves and degrading all that I hold dear.

    America is now the land of idiots—long live idiots!

    Reply
    1. Bryan Caskey

      What is the appropriate dress code for waving the American flag that won’t offend your sensibilities?

      Would a black man wearing a Tupac t-shirt in Jean shorts waving the flag offend you? If so, why? If not, why not?

      I’m just trying to understand your position.

      Reply
      1. Guy

        My position is that wearing the flag as the items of clothing I listed before is disgraceful. Sorry if that was not properly conveyed.

        Reply
        1. Bryan Caskey

          Oh. Yes, wearing it as clothing is not respectful.

          I agree.

          Big offenders of that rule are also people who attend political conventions.

          Reply
  3. James Edward Cross

    A couple of things ….

    First, the flag is not “sacred.” It is not connected to a deity or dedicated to a religious purpose nor does it embody the laws or doctrine of a religion. Worthy of respect, yes. But it is not an item of worship.

    Second, Reagan’s “shining city on a hill.” He took that from John Winthrop’s famous 1630 sermon:
    “We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies; when He shall make us a praise and glory that men shall say of succeeding plantations, “may the Lord make it like that of New England.” For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. ”
    Reagan, by the way, always noted that he was quoting Winthrop.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Thanks for mentioning that. When I read that before I meant to come back and say that I do think of our country as a city upon a hill. But I’ve never seen it have anything to do with Reagan. I was quite familiar with the concept long before he (and many others) mentioned it…

      Reply
    2. Ken

      Yes, Reagan quoted Winthrop. But in quoting him, he misrepresented what Winthrop said. The “shining city” image Winthrop used was meant in an aspirational sense. Reagan used it as a description of what America was. Winthrop put it forward as a laurel we should continuously strive to attain. Reagan wrongly used it to suggest we had already secured it.

      Reply
      1. James Edward Cross

        When you look at “city upon a hill” in context, it is less about exceptionalism and more of a warning. “Everyone will be watching us. If we prove false to the work God wants us to do and as a result God abandons us then we will be seen as a bad example and cautionary tale for the ages.”

        If you consistently fail to live up to your ideals then not only will people stop listening to you but they will begin to doubt the ideals themselves.

        Reply
        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          It’s a burden, but an honorable one, one we should be glad to bear. As JFK said

          People who voted for Trump, of course, have no interest in bearing any burden, and they did enormous damage around the world to the very idea of liberal democracy…

          Reply
          1. Barry

            Speaking of JFK

            Watched a few videos last night of folks at a Trump rally stating that their firm belief is that Trump will be reinstated in September (was June). One even made a financial bet with the video-journalist about it.

            The most interesting thing was that Trump will name John Kennedy Jr. as his Vice President.

            I wasn’t aware of this until recently but apparently a lot of Trumpers at Trump rallies believe JFK Jr. is alive (yes, really) and believe that Trump has chosen him to be his VP when he’s reinstated.

            Reply
              1. Ghost of JFK, Jr.

                I’m going to pass. Pretty happy where I am compared to serving in a Trump administration.

                Reply
        2. Ken

          I don’t think Winthrop cared much about what “everyone” thought of us.
          He was focused entirely on God’s judgment of us.

          Reply
        3. Mark Stewart

          Ummm, the shining city upon the hill was in reference to Boston. Plantation as used meant what became the British colonies. It was of course about being under god, but it was also a reference as to how Mass was staking out a new political and social order in the Americas.

          So in that sense it was both extant as Reagan took it to mean, and also as Ken says of it as aspirational. James is also right about its observation that it would take all of their collective efforts not to fail, and if they did what a high bar that would set for the other colonies up and down the eastern seaboard of N America.

          Reply
  4. Ken

    ” What bothers me most is that it was likely ineffective. Indeed, it may have hurt her cause more than it helped. ”

    Nervous moderate white folks said much the same thing about black activism back in the Civil Rights era.

    Reply
  5. Barry

    Fox News and conservatives in the talk radio/social media world went nuts late Monday night and early Tuesday morning blasting the women’s national soccer team for disrespecting the national anthem and a 98 year old WW2 veteran – Pete Dupre- who played it on his harmonica before a game – EVEN THOUGH THEY DIDN’T.

    Soon after they went nuts, it was reported that members of the team that were being accused of not being patriotic because they were not looking at the 98 year old – In reality they were ACTUALLY- looking at the flag inside the stadium as is proper flag protocol (for those interested in such things)

    In reality, every member of the team had went by to personally thank Pete DuPre immediately after the game.

    On a show that is purported to be a “straight news” show on Fox (of course it isn’t) – the discussion quickly turned to how even though the team didn’t do what Fox and conservatives had been accusing them of doing – Americans shouldn’t be surprised that they were accused of it because only conservatives are real Americans and truly patriotic.

    and for Brad who doesn’t pay attention to Fox News and for those that think they don’t matter- this was a MAJOR story this morning in the sports world and has been covered extensively by all the main newspapers and media sites.

    Reply
  6. Paul DeMarco

    Ken,
    I’m not at all nervous about Berry. I agree with her. Systemic racism has killed countless black people over the last four centuries and its effects continue to be deadly (infant mortality rates and COVID death rates are two of many examples we could cite). You and I are already in her camp. I think it’s legitimate to ask what strategies can we employ to most quickly bring about the change we seek. Right now, anti-racism is subject to an enormous backlash. I’m interested in the most effective ways to move folks on the fence our way. It’s unlikely logic will win the day. It will be emotion; and Berry’s behavior on the podium was, in my view, not compelling.

    Reply
    1. Ken

      Compelling for whom?
      I don’t think Berry aimed to use her protest to persuade anyone. Or, for that matter, how it might look to some traditionalist White folk. I think she meant it as a statement, a declaration on behalf of the Black population. And for many Black folk, it was quite compelling.

      Reply
    2. Ken

      Just like Coin Kaepernick, she used the channel AVAILABLE to her to express Black agency.
      It’s a mistake to expect Black folks to plead for a boon or worry about upsetting White folks. Those days are over. No more hat-in-hand. Her gesture says: Mend your ways or be ready to see more of this kind of uppitiness.

      Reply
  7. Paul V DeMarco

    I am all for black agency. I’m just unsure how to respond to her gesture. It seems unplanned, really more pique than protest. Everyone knows that if you show disrespect to the flag, especially if you are representing America, you will be subject to well-deserved criticism. For me, her action fits in the category of civil disobedience. Even though there is no law against her actions, there is a very strong social expectation to honor the flag. But for civil disobedience to be effective, there must be a higher morality to which one appeals. The sit-ins to integrate lunch counters were a classic example of this: violation of an unjust law to uplift the righteousness of equality for blacks. Toward what higher purpose is Berry pointing? What is she hoping to accomplish? She said the anthem is “disrespectful” to black Americans. Does she want to change it to a different song? (this is actually an interesting idea and might be worth a discussion on the blog. If we were going to change the anthem, what should we choose?). If the point of her protest is “to represent my communities and my people,…those that have died due to systemic racism,” I stand by my argument that she is hurting her cause. Those who understand systemic racism are already with her. Those who don’t are unlikely to be moved by pictures of a disgruntled Berry with her back to the flag.

    Reply
    1. Ken

      I can only speak to my own reaction, which was: zip. Even though I fly a flag daily, take it in at night (because it’s not illuminated) and keep it out of the rain, I’m not put out or off by people showing “disrespect” for it. I don’t even take offense at it being burned. Flags have more than one use and “abusing” it can be a valid form of protest.

      As for:
      “Those who don’t are unlikely to be moved by pictures of a disgruntled Berry with her back to the flag.”

      I can only repeat: Her cause isn’t what you want it to be. Black folk are past begging for anything from anyone anymore. And persuading others that Black folks are deserving of respect isn’t HER job, it’s YOURs. IF, as you suggest, you’re with her. Because some might take what you wrote to mean: She reflects badly on her race.

      Reply
  8. Paul V DeMarco

    Ken,
    I appreciate your engaging with me. That’s one of the beauties of this blog. Brad has created a forum in which a white man and a black man (that’s my assumption, please forgive me if I’m incorrect) who don’t know one another can have a measured discussion about race.
    The missing element here, of course, is trust. As strangers, it’s easier for me to trust you than vice versa. Several of your comments (pegging me as similar to “nervous moderate white folks who said much the same thing about black activism back in the Civil Rights era” and “some might take what you wrote to mean: She reflects badly on her race”) suggest you are skeptical, which I willingly accept.
    As a black person, you understand the black experience in a way I never will. My role is to support the equal treatment-that I have always enjoyed-for you and all others who don’t have my advantages. So I am listening very closely to you and learning. What I can bring to the discussion is an understanding of my whiteness and other whites I know.
    That is what I am trying to communicate in the column. It’s advice about how I think you can be most successful with whites. I’m not asking you to spare our feelings or do the work of racial discernment for us. Having read about white resistance in the Civil Rights movement and having seen white resistance play out around me since I was a teenager, I have some sense of what will move and repel white people.
    In several of your comments you express a scorched-earth approach. You wholeheartedly endorse Berry’s actions. Which makes me wonder, is there anything Berry could do that would bother you? Bringing a flag to the medal stand and ripping it to pieces? Spitting on it? Burning it? Is there no limit on Berry’s or other blacks’ forms of protest?
    I suspect there is. Despite your endorsement of Berry, you don’t follow her example. You are so respectful of the flag that you bring it in at night because it’s not illuminated.
    Again, I appreciate your engagement. I hope over time you will be less skeptical of me. And perhaps we should meet at some point. It would likely make our discussions less pointed.

    Reply
    1. James Edward Cross

      Black people have been dealing with this for over 400 years … thru slavery, Jim Crow, all the way to Trump. They have been told to be patient, to take into account the feelings of white people, to not rock the boat too much. And while progress has been made, it has been slow and likely doesn’t feel like much when you are in the middle of it.

      Black people are tired of it. They are tired of being being “allowed” their rights as Americans, of being able to exercise only those rights white people will “let” them have. They are tired of dealing with the feelings of white people while their own trauma is seen as something lesser. Patience, after all, can only last so long.

      Reply
    2. Ken

      I won’t say whether the assumption about my race is correct or not. It shouldn’t matter. Because it would be disappointing to assume that only a Black person could approve of Berry’s action. Or to assume that Black folk have less respect for the flag simply because one Black person chooses to use it as a means of protest. Protest is often the highest form of respect, because it takes a thing seriously (in contrast, for instance, to those who use the flag as articles of clothing).

      It’s also assumed that I approve of Berry’s action. I neither condemn nor condone it. I simply accept it and attempt to understand it. I prefer to examine the substance of the complaint rather than focus on the means of expressing it. I fully understand that some folks could be offended by her action. But, to me, that reflects a lack of generosity in understanding and, knowingly or unknowingly, a desire or at least a willingness to deflect from the main issue. I have learned that we should never underestimate White resentment. And that includes some of those who think of themselves as “good” White folk.

      Reply
      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        That’s interesting that Paul made that assumption. I’ve never had the impression Ken was black. Of course, I don’t think about things like that much. As Ken says, “it would be disappointing to assume that only a Black person could approve of Berry’s action. Or to assume that Black folk have less respect for the flag simply because one Black person chooses to use it as a means of protest…”

        Only I’d say it without that new thing of capitalizing “black,” which to me is yet another way of attaching too much importance to someone’s color. I’m appalled to see newspapers doing it. It reminds me of the bad old days when paper’s always mentioned race first, if the person was black, because that was what was most important. You know, the headlines like “Colored Man Sought in Robbery.” Usually something negative like that, of course.

        I was proud of my profession, and of my country, for dropping that garbage. (Not that I had anything to do with it. That stuff predates my career by a couple of decades.) Now, again, we’re making a big deal of race. It doesn’t matter that we do so in a more positive vein than in the ’30s; we’re still making too much of race… and gender, and all the other identity signifiers.

        For most of my life, I was very pleased to see that I lived in a society that was increasingly treating people as just people. Now I see that eroding, and I think it’s tragic that people categorize each other, and themselves, in such narrow terms. It diminishes their humanity. I know they think it does the opposite, but it doesn’t. It tears us apart, overemphasizing our differences…

        Reply
        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          To the extent that I think of such things, it bothers me that I have the sense — perhaps inaccurate, but a sense — that most of my readers are white. And if you’d asked me to assign a “race” to Ken, I’d have thought, “just another of these white guys.”

          Nothing against white guys. But I’d like to see the audience being broader than that. And I tend to treasure the women who comment. They are often the best among us, but then I tend to expect that of women, I guess. Some feminists would castigate me for that, I suppose…

          Reply
    3. randle

      “That is what I am trying to communicate in the column. It’s advice about how I think you can be most successful with whites. I’m not asking you to spare our feelings or do the work of racial discernment for us. Having read about white resistance in the Civil Rights movement and having seen white resistance play out around me since I was a teenager, I have some sense of what will move and repel white people.”

      Thank you, White Savior, for offering to help Black people navigate the nuances and frailties of the white American psyche.
      Because if there is one truth in this country that is universally acknowledged, it is that white people yearn to understand the racial injustices inflicted on people they have been schooled to resent and blame for their own declining fortunes.
      Your advice is kindly meant and sincere, I know. And yet, it may take more than reasonable discourse to undo the grievance culture our corporate class has been cultivating these past decades, Paul. Why do you think we got Fox News in the first place? Remember Lee Atwater and Willie Horton? This is a power struggle. Nothing like a black straw man or woman to deflect from their assault on workers’ rights and benefits and enable the resurgence of the plutocracy. And it continues today at a fever pitch. Critical Race Theory! Black Lives Matter! Run away! Or better yet, storm the Capitol and overthrow the government. After all of this priming, all they needed was a nod and a wink from TFG and they were on their way.
      But what about that insurrection? Why dwell on a group of tourists on a fun jaunt to D.C. when Gwen Berry is exercising her constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression and peaceful protest? She looks “piqued” and “petulant”! Can’t have these “scorched-earth” tactics. Now, it is perfectly fine with our GOP officials that a violent “tour group” overran the Capitol on Jan. 6, killed and maimed people, tried to overturn an election and crapped on the floor and smeared it on the walls as a parting gift. Why, these people are patriots, peacefully protesting an election outcome they didn’t like. It’s to be expected! Gwen Berry is the real problem. She might offend some white people who would otherwise be out there protesting on behalf of civil rights.
      Berry is an athlete. A great one, and a sartorial boss, but her range of influence extends about as far as her hammer-throws. Big boys and girls, with fully formed cerebral cortexes, can take her point and do with it as they want. Or they can remain blissfully unaware of the whole thing, until some well-meaning, concerned white guy or grievance-stoking right-wing media outlet decides to make a federal case out of it.
      Meanwhile, the legislatures in 48 states are enacting or seeking to enact voter-suppression laws aimed at keeping black people from participating in their country’s government. And the issue is: How can we teach black people to protest racism with the delicacy and subtlety necessary to avoid offending the people determined to enact these laws and their supporters?
      I’m perplexed.

      Reply
      1. Ken

        Martin Luther King, Jr. adds:

        “I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

        Reply
  9. Paul V DeMarco

    Here’s a long comment in response to the helpful critiques of my column by Ken, Randle, James and others. I wrote it as a stand-alone column entitled “A Local Dialogue about Race” but Brad felt it would be better as part of this discussion. It’s a little more formal than a comment would be, but here it is:

    The call for a “national dialogue about race” has been heard for at least several decades. My first memory of it is Bill Clinton’s initiative on race (the “One America Initiative”) that was rolled out in 1997. But as we have learned, race is hard to talk about. There is lots of agreeing with people who look and think like we do, very little listening to those that think differently.
    The comments after my column “What Gwen Berry does for America” give me some hope that dialogue about race is possible. We are disagreeing agreeably and all have the same goal in mind, that America, as MLK exhorted, “will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.”
    One caveat that Brad raised is that we may all be white which, if true, reduces the relevancy and power of our discussion. The more diverse the participants, the more lively and informative the discussion. If you are black or from any other marginalized group, please add your voice.
    One of the attractive parts of race discussions is that both sides acknowledge a similar goal, that there should be equality of opportunity, in contrast to some of our other chronic national debates in which one side or the other hopes to prevail-abortion, tax rates, health care or environmental policy, etc.
    I have enjoyed my exchanges with Ken, who is arguing so deftly that I can’t tell if he’s black or white. He doesn’t want to reveal it, which I respect. It was the phrase “Mend your ways or be ready to see more of this kind of uppitiness,” that led me to assume he was black. I wouldn’t be comfortable as a white person describing Berry as uppity, even in her defense. But that’s me. Ken may be a white man connected to the black community in a way I’m not.
    Also, Ken is challenging me in the way that blacks often challenge whites they see as too moderate, implying that I am like the “nervous moderate white folk” of old or that I would be uncomfortable with Gwen Berry because “she reflects badly on her race.” His challenges put me in the precarious position of being tempted to respond with my white ally bona fides (“my best friend is black,” “I have a black neighbor,” “look at all the black-friendly boards and organizations to which I belong”, etc).
    If Ken or any of you want that information, I will provide it. However, I hope that you will simply trust that I, like you, want America to be transformed into a society where formerly marginalized groups can thrive, succeed, and hold power.
    Quick-How many black female state governors have there been in US history? That’s right, zero. When I see Berry, I want her to be able to be able to quickly ascend to whatever height she chooses in sport, in politics, and in life. I wrote my column not because I oppose her goal. The column is about her tactics.
    I spend a significant amount of my time reading and listening to conservative news outlets and talking to conservative friends so I can understand how they view the world. In order for Berry to have the freedom and respect she seeks, we must win over some of those folks. More of them will have to vote for leaders that hold views friendly to our cause. Berry’s display received much more coverage by conservative media than liberal media because it can be used to support the narrative that liberals and blacks believe America is evil.
    Protests that offend or inconvenience people (e.g., blocking a highway) put the protestor in the position of having to justify their provocation or inconvenience by the righteousness of their cause. In my mind, Berry’s protest didn’t meet that threshold. I don’t think it’s not enough to say “I’m doing this in solidarity with all the people who have been harmed or killed by systemic racism.” That’s a historical fact. And as I asked Ken in a question that went unanswered, if you support Berry’s display, is there any limit on inflammatory action to remind us of this fact?
    Some of you argue that her protest is valid and beneficial despite its offensive to some people. And you may be right. It’s something hard to measure. I disagree. But that doesn’t make us enemies. That makes us advocates for the same cause who differ on methods.

    Reply
    1. Ken

      Like I said: I neither approve nor disapprove of her action. Instead, I try to take away something from it. Wagging a finger in her face over her choice of means is a distraction, it misses the point and is an easy out. And as for what other actions I might approve or disapprove of, there’s no point in either dealing in hypotheticals or providing examples. If one does not approve of something as mild as pulling a sour face at the playing of the national anthem, likely most any other direct action would be condemed as well.

      Reply
    2. Ken

      At bottom it comes down to this:
      Rather than find fault with this or that Black action, have you ever stopped to consider that it might be a better use of your time and energy to instead focus on explaining to your offended conservative White friends why Black folk feel a need to take these actions? And maybe persuade them that they should make an effort to listen and learn?

      Reply

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