Silencing and the NFL protests

Dahlia Lithwick seems to be channelling a lot of ideas from the silencing literature!

So, when Colin Kaepernick explicitly says time and time and time again that he is protesting police brutality, he is wrong. And when another player, Eric Reid, said on Monday that players are taking a knee expressly not to protest the flag or the military, but to protest the “incredible number of unarmed black people being killed by the police,” he is also wrong. What Sanders and Trump are saying here exemplifies one of the most grotesque aspects of unchecked privilege. It transcends even patronizing lectures about how black men should protest in such a way as to avoid offending white people. This is an attempt to dictate—with the threat of job loss—the very ability of some black men to have and maintain control over their own speech. What the president and Sanders are claiming is that they are better situated than the actual speakers to understand what those speakers are saying. That takes us from privilege to silencing, and it’s not a move that should go unremarked.

5 thoughts on “Silencing and the NFL protests

  1. Or one could read Black writers channeling their own thoughts and sensibilities on the subject. For example:

    Lithwick’s analysis is naive: “What the president and Sanders are claiming is that they are better situated than the actual speakers to understand what those speakers are saying.” Trump and his sympathizers don’t even pretend to care to understand what Blacks have to say in protest. What Trumpists are claiming is that they won’t believe police brutality against Blacks is a problem and, anyway, that Black players who protest are ungrateful Negroes who should shut up about “politics” and stand for the anthem or else lose their jobs…because patriotism.

    (It doesn’t help that Lithwick approvingly quotes the pseudo-apology from the Steelers player who broke ranks with his team by exiting the tunnel to stand alone for the anthem: “‘I have learned that I don’t know what it’s like to be from [a Black neighborhood]'”…as if that’s what Kaepernick-type protests are about.)

    There is an imaginary friend vibe to Lithwick’s proposed remedy: “If we are truly interested in anything that resembles truth seeking anymore, instead of allowing this controversy to be sidetracked by those who would put false words in a protester’s mouth, let’s give him the dignity of accepting at face value the real words and intentions he claims for himself.” No one of good faith needs such encouragement. Everybody “on all sides” who has a clue knows what Trump’s “Get that son of a bitch off the field” dog whistle was code for in and beyond Alabama.

  2. Something seems off about this. Consider:
    “I didn’t mean to offend you” –> doesn’t matter, unintended harm is still harm
    “I didn’t mean it like that” –> doesn’t matter, unintended meaning still means something.

    So this case of protest seems similar. You’re entitled to your interpretation of the meaning of your actions just as I’m entitled to my interpretation of them. When others interpret anthem protests as anti-military (for example), that’s analogous to dismissing the aforementioned responses to harmful consequences of speech.

    What am I missing?

  3. I agree that there’s something off with the argument. I think prime’s comment, which Jenny puts up for discusion in the next post, indicates a difference that’s important.
    1. Protesting seems to depend on one’s intentions, and for Trump to insist he knows what someone’s intention really are seems bad.

    2. Offending and insulting seem to depend on effect, and here Trump could know more about your effects than you do.

    I don’t think one can just say that the trump-allies are really talking about offending, not protesting, but they do seem confused at this point.

    BTW, I think the issue of intentions concerns which illocutionary acts one is perpforming, while the effects are a matter of perlocutionary action.

  4. A certain type of willful ignorance, false equivalence mongering, and perpetual diversion is as old as American slavery.

    “So when Key penned ‘No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,’ he was taking great satisfaction in the death of slaves who’d freed themselves. His perspective may have been affected by the fact he owned several slaves himself.”

    Any thoughtful American would think about what it means to demand that African Americans stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and about how little has been asked or expected by African Americans in return.

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