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On My Mind: Why Ignorance Was Not Bliss

The past two weeks have been a real eye opener for many Americans across the country, including myself. My thoughts have been so jumbled on this issue that I really haven’t been able to put them into words. I spent a week trying to get something down on paper; I owe this cause at least that much. My silence was a contribution to the racism and unfairness that many of my fellow Americans face. The anger, frustration, sadness and guilt all hit me at once. It took me twenty-one years of life to understand just how ignorant I was to racial injustices in our country, but I know now that it's the way we've all been conditioned.

I cannot begin to understand the hardships the black community has faced throughout history, but I can listen and raise awareness to the issues at hand. Systematic racism has been deeply ingrained within the roots of the United States ever since the first Europeans settled these lands, almost half a millennium ago. Many of us today have been unaware of this, either by design or through our own ignorance. It is time to take accountability.

Four years ago, Colin Kaepernick began kneeling in protest during the National Anthem; I wish that I, along with so many other Americans, had known what that protest truly meant. Many of us stammered in outrage and twisted the message and intent behind Kaepernick's actions, just so we could be offended by something. What began as a peaceful protest against police brutality quickly turned into a National Debate, one which even saw the President of the United States call Kaepernick an "S.O.B" for exercising his rights to speak up. Don’t believe me? Just read this 2016 article from The New York Times' Billy Witz.

“[Kaepernick] wanted to redirect the narrative stemming from his recent refusal to stand for the national anthem. What began as a gesture to protest police brutality and social injustice had careened into a national debate on everything but that.”

Following the start of his protest, Kaepernick soon had to begin defending his love for his country. The protest has never been and never will be about being anti-American, but actually being treated like an American. I was just beginning my freshman year of college when taking a knee became such an issue. If I had only known then what I know now. I thought that I understood why people were upset he was taking a knee; men and women died for that flag. I get that it's a touchy subject for families that lost loved-ones in the military.

However, those men and women gave their lives so that we could all live on as free Americans. They paid the ultimate sacrifice and will never go unappreciated. The issue never lied with the anthem, especially after former Green Beret Nate Boyer told Kaepernick that kneeling during the anthem was a respectful form of protest, and not an insult to the troops. I hyperlinked Nate’s open letter to Colin above; it’s a great message and speaks many truths that correlate with the world we live in today.

As I write this, the entire Drew Brees debacle has already taken place. Drew, your grandfather fought with many men of different race, religion, orientation, etc.; I could go on and on. What you got twisted was that your grandfather fought so that we could use our voices to speak out and protest issues happening throughout the nation. So that we could stand up against an oppressive force and exercise our freedoms. And while no one is denying that, Drew, let's open our eyes to what's really happening.

Black men and women are in constant fear for their lives over "routine" police protocols. The police were founded upon the basis to "Protect and Serve," not to kill innocent Black Americans because they look like they might do something bad. They weren’t founded for the purpose of killing innocent black teens because they’re walking home at night with a hoodie on. Nor were they founded on neglecting basic human rights while black men and women cry out in fear for their life. THEY WERE FOUNDED TO PROTECT AND SERVE.

George Floyd was the straw that broke the camel's back. "Why now, rather than before?" you might ask, to which I’ll respond that I don’t know. Why did it take the murder of George Floyd for something like this to happen? There is no way to justify that answer, because he shouldn’t have had to lose his life to begin with. These protests shouldn’t have been necessary to begin with, but now they are. That is the truth.

For many White Americans, it's hard to admit that truth. Myself, I never really took it seriously. Never before did I think of anything in life that didn’t directly impact me. I hate having to admit that. My ignorance, however big a factor it plays, has influenced why racism exists in this country. To the white people out there who have already come to this same realization or who are just now starting to question things, I say this: it's not an overnight change. There are many things about me that I need to change and take accountability for. Becoming aware of this issue is merely the first of several steps.

Don't think that, as white people, we must take the lead, as that's not what this is about. White Americans across the nation must stand on the same pedestal with our brothers and sisters of all races. We must use our privilege to bring awareness to even more all around the world. Don't fall victim to the idea that this is a black vs white issue, because it’s not. This is the fight against racism, a fight for basic human rights (something our constitution says we are all entitled to). To anyone who says "All Lives Matter:" while you may have a point, until the day we as a country can wholeheartedly say "Black Lives Matter," then all lives do not matter.

To all Black Americans, I am sorry for not realizing this sooner. The injustices and atrocities you've all had to endure will not go unanswered, and in due time there will be reparations. Until that day, and then every day after that: I will stand by you, I will hear you, I will listen and I will fight with you. Because Black Lives Matter.

- Jake


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