Cheap Seats 2016
Dear Colin - 09/07
By Rich Trzupek
I’m going to do something I told myself I would never consciously do when I started writing this column for the Mighty Examiner sixteen years ago: I’m going to refer to people in the context of the color of their skin. A brief explanation is in order.
When it came time to choose a high school way back in 1973, I chose to attend St. Ignatius College Prep, which is located just south of the Loop. Friends of mine with whom I grew up in the far southeast side neighborhood of Hegewisch thought I had lost my mind.
Back then, Hegewisch was a lily-white enclave. It was a steel-mill neighborhood populated by Caucasians who didn’t like to stray far from home because, you know, “the darkies” were out there and all. Not only was St. Ignatius openly and pridefully multi-racial back then (as it is today), getting to Iggy meant that I would have to transit through black neighborhoods. My friends didn’t think I would survive a week. That’s how much crazy fear existed back then.
I didn’t and don’t see it that way. In life you deal with individuals, not groups. It’s idiotic to deal with a person as a part of a group, especially if said person has had zero say in their membership in the group being scrutinized. Every personal interaction is unique.
It seemed to me that people riding the Dan Ryan “L” at seven o’clock in the morning were far more likely to be headed for work or school than they were to be looking for a skinny white boy to beat up and/or rob. I theorized that the bad guys usually slept during the day and, despite a couple of silly muggings, that turned out to be true.
Thinking that a person’s skin tone somehow mattered, or should matter, was a ridiculous concept back then and remains a ridiculous concept today. Every single individual on planet earth should interact with every other individual on planet earth on the basis of each individual’s character. Period.
I don’t accept the concept that white people are inherently racist because their culture makes us so. Nor do I accept the proposition that there are degrees of restitution available to white folk that can allow them to atone for their sins. What’s done is done and cannot be undone. We need to move forward, not look backward.
With that experience and philosophy firmly entrenched in my mind, when I started writing this column I resolved to never describe any individual in terms of their skin tone or ethnic background, because I don’t believe either matters. I may have strayed from that resolve over the last sixteen years – nobody is perfect, least of all me – but I’m certain that I stuck to my guns the vast majority of the time.
Enter San Francisco 49er’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick who recently sat out the National Anthem in protest of what he views as racism in America in general, and racism among law enforcement professionals is particular.
I’m OK with public protests. Tommie Smith’s and Juan Carlos’ “Black Power” salutes during the 1968 Olympics were pretty damned cool and well deserved, in my not-so-humble opinion. Smith and Carlos stood up for something they believed in. Kaepernick, in contrast, stood down for a cause he didn’t remotely understand.
Kaepernick said that he didn’t stand for the National Anthem because he believes America is a racist nation and American law enforcement is also institutionally racist. Colin is entitled to his opinion, but there is one huge flaw in his logic: he must assume every single black police officer is complicit in a national, racist conspiracy or that every single black police officer is too stupid to identify and call out a national, racist conspiracy.
I defy Colin Kaepernick to find one – a single one – black police officer who can introduce any credible evidence that even suggests that institutional racism plays any part in law enforcement today. In the absence of such evidence, we are left with two possible conclusions: black police officers are willing or unwitting dupes to institutional racism and have been incredibly successful at covering that up, or Colin Kaepernick is full of crap.
I’m betting on the latter.