December 1, 1955. Rosa Parks boarded a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. The law required her to sit in the “colored” section of the bus. The white and African-American sections of the bus were separated by a sign.
As the bus continued on its way and began to fill with passengers, the bus driver noticed some white passengers were standing. He stopped the bus and moved the segregation line back one row giving the white passengers additional seats. Rosa was now seated in a white row.
The Montgomery law allowed bus drivers to ask African-American passengers to give up their seats in white sections. If they refused, the police could be called and the passenger could be arrested.
The driver asked the African-American passengers seated in the new white row to stand so white passengers could sit. Three passengers complied. Rosa did not.
The driver demanded to know why Rosa did not get up. She replied “I don’t think I should have to stand up.” Rosa was arrested. Later that evening she was released on bail.
It was 1955, and an unknown African-American lady was arrested for violating a law. That may seem like a non-issue to most of us, but the result was a 381 day bus boycott by the African-American citizens of Montgomery, Alabama. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ordered the integration of the Montgomery bus line. That led to the integration of bus lines across the nation.
Fast forward to 2016. Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem to protest how America still oppresses people of color. Despite intense criticism the protest continues to grow. And with its growth the protester protest also grows.
If Rosa Parks were alive today, would she take a knee?
Some might say she definitely would. Others might say she would not. None of us can be certain how she would react.
A better question is what does Rosa’s action in 1955 have to do with today’s anthem protests and the protester protests.
If you support the current protests you might be wondering if you should continue reading this. Please continue. As a protest protester I am highly critical of both sides.
What exactly is being accomplished by those who protest (the Kneelers) and those who protest the protesters (the Standers)?
You may choose to listen with deaf ears and see with blind eyes, but we have a serious problem in this country. Racism still exists.
It’s easy to use the general term ‘oppressed’ and equally easy to boo at football players who use that term, but is anyone doing anything to solve the problem?
You want to talk about disrespect and freedom of speech? Fine. While we’re busy pointing fingers at each other, kids in urban areas are going to bed hungry. Why? Is your protest and my protest protest doing anything to bring about a permanent solution? What does kids going to bed hungry have to do with racism? I don’t know. Do you?
Here’s a crazy idea. What if the Kneelers and the Standers became sitters and sat down across the table from each other and had a conversation about racism? What if we actually tried to identify issues and solve them?
Are we willing to do anything to find permanent solutions?
Folks, this is not an African-American problem. It is an all-American problem. It won’t be solved only by African-Americans. It’s going to take all of us.
When the topic is racism, I can’t begin to know what all the issues are or how to solve them. Do you? Has either of us taken the time to try?
Kneel if you want. Stand if you choose. While you doing either ask yourself how you are helping to solve the problem of racism in this country.
Rosa experienced a specific area of racism first hand. An issue was identified and she acted. Can we do the same? Will we?
For more about Rosa Parks click here.