down on one knee

My son Calvin—for all intents and purposes—does not have a voice. While he does cry when hurt, grouses in protest, and giggles when he’s feeling good, he cannot use words to convey frustration that he can’t do what other kids can, or to express sadness that he can’t call his peers friends, or to tell me if someone is mocking his otherness. To be honest, I’m not convinced Calvin is cognizant of these kinds of things, but perhaps it is better to assume that he is.

As his closest comrade, I am also his voice. I advocate for his inclusion, fight for his right to live with the fewest hindrances, champion his empowerment, and defend him by denouncing those who are cruel. Understanding Calvin’s inability to be heard causes me to reflect deeply on others whose voices often get stifled—women, immigrants, the poor, and people of color, to name a few.

The rash of violence against African Americans by police this past week—these past several months, years, decades—is so disturbing as to bring me to tears. I read of these men—fathers, brothers, husbands—see their hands raised, see them falter, see them bleed out on the street. As much as a White woman can, I understand their fear and sense of powerlessness against a nation wrongly terrified and neglectful of them. I hear their wives and mothers plead, see the children they’ve left behind tremble and weep.

And then there are the children. I see video of a teenage boy manhandled and cuffed by police simply for riding his bicycle on the sidewalk. I see video of a fifteen-year-old girl being roughed up, cuffed, and pepper sprayed for defying what seems to me like wrongful capture. I see video of a sixteen-year-old boy physically assaulted and brought to tears for nothing more than jaywalking. I see twelve-year-old Tamir Rice shot, in the blink of an eye, his sister tackled and handcuffed while trying to reach his dying side.

In a recent conversation about Colin Kaepernick’s renouncing of the National Anthem—the athlete’s decision not to stand in honor, but instead go down on one knee—someone close to me voiced disapproval, saying it wasn’t the appropriate time or place for protest. I asked if he knew of the anthem’s third stanza, a verse celebrating the historical torment and murder of Blacks, as written by the notoriously racist lyricist, Francis Scott Key; he didn’t. Most of us don't know that verse. I wondered if he feels as deeply aggrieved by the rash of police violence against African Americans, which Kaepernick is condemning, as he does by the athlete's protest itself.

The morning after that discussion, Calvin suffered a grand mal seizure while asleep. As he shivered in the fit’s wake, I laid in bed with him, my hand over his heart. There, in the dark, I replayed the conversation, a stream of questions swirling in my head:

is it reasonable for the privileged white to dictate how, where and when an oppressed people protest their plight? what informs white opinion on these black matters? why do so many white folks feel compelled to state the obvious, that all lives matter, in response to the more apt notion of our times—that black lives matter. why aren’t more white people incensed when police pepper spray, mob, hurt and murder unarmed black men, women and children. what makes so many white folks intent on denying the narrative of our black brethren? what makes someone so blind to a plight which we whites set in motion? why is it so difficult to validate our fellow americans’ fight for justice? what pittance must we surrender to give other folks the benefit of doubt? what do we have to lose (we have everything to gain) by showing solidarity with people who suffer inequity every day of their lives?

Last week I read about two White men who, rather than being shot, had their guns wrestled away by the cops. I remembered when a White mass murderer of nine Black churchgoers was given a fast food burger on his way to the police station. I remember when a White Stanford swimmer rapist was allowed to serve only half of his pathetically short sentence. I’ve read of so many White lives that were valued enough to be spared. But Black lives? They don’t appear to matter.

To be White in this nation is to act with impunity. And yet, so many White people are blind to their privilege, and to the fear and uncertainty that Black people—mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, wives, husbands—face on a daily basis because of their skin color.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

And so when I think of Colin Kaepernick down on one knee protesting the violence, murder, abuse and oppression of Black people in this nation, I think of all of my many beloved Black friends. I think of Calvin, who has no voice, who often struggles against the elements and the force of gravity, who needs allies who can help lift him up and embrace him when he is hurting. No one can understand his challenges except those who know him and listen to what he is trying so hard to express.

And so I choose to amplify the voices who speak the truth of justice, whose messages are stifled and, because of outrage and hope for a better nation, in solidarity against the wrongs of a country I'll gladly go down on one knee.

Photo by Michael Kolster


  1. We're with you all the way, Christy. We just have to hang in there, believing and having faith that the good in people will emerge and prevail. Just keep believing.