Sociology & Anthropology

Faculty Blog

"On Football and Civil Disobedience" (October 4, 2017)
by Dr. Robert Hironimus-Wendt, Professor of Sociology

After receiving his BS degree in sociology, Dr. H-W worked in the human services field for a few years. He then pursued his MS degree in sociology, and wrote a master's thesis that examined the organizational properties of effective groups homes for the developmentally disabled. Dr. Hironimus-Wendt completed his PhD at North Carolina State University. His areas of specialization are labor market dynamics, social inequalities, and educational pedagogy. His dissertation research analyzed the differential outcomes (by gender and ethnicity) associated with plant closings and layoffs. His current research focuses on the gender wage gap between women and men in the professoriate.

Some Americans (at most 30%, almost all are white) have become upset about football players protesting racial inequality before the law. These patriotic Americans view the protest as an egregious act of "disrespect" toward ALL Americans by athletes who will not stand during the National Anthem. Our President recently insisted that anyone who does not stand at attention and salute the flag should be fired. He said, "This is not about race! It is about patriotism!"

On conservative media outlets, it has been suggested the failure to stand is a "disruption" to the American way of life (although the Anthem is played on queue, and the games began on time).  Others say this act of civil disobedience was "disrespectful" toward America's military, veterans, our police, etc. I actually am a veteran, and I seriously doubt most veterans are offended. I even doubt that most members of the armed forces are offended, or that most police officers are offended.

However, not standing is an intentional act, and it is intentionally "disrupting" something. That is the point of non-violent civil disobedience. Contrary to what most laypeople believe, the right Rev., Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not work within the system - he fought against the system. This is patently obvious to anyone who actually reads the words of Dr. King, and contrary to the beliefs of those who suggest the "content of character" argument was his primary concern. It was not.

Dr. King advocated for non-violent civil disobedience just like that we are now witnessing. He advocated non-violent civil disobedience specifically, to awaken white people to the evils people of color experience on a daily basis, including the killing of their unarmed children. He sought to make manifest, unjust laws and unjust inequalities, so that white people would be forced to confront them rather than continue to dismiss them.

Color-blind racism insists, "all are equal and all are equally valued." In America today, this is simply not true. Unlike white people, Latinos are made to prove they are citizens. Native Americans are made to cede their lands to corporations. Black and Brown parents must worry that police may kill their unarmed children. White folks do not have these issues. That is what makes these race issues.

"ALL Lives Matter" sounds nice in theory, but is morally bankrupt in practice. "All lives matter" demands that we disregard the claims of people of color, that they experience differential justice.

In his Birmingham Letter, Dr. King wrote (paraphrasing):

"[You say] our acts are untimely... For years now [we] have heard the words 'Wait!' It rings in the ear of every [person of color]... [But] justice too long delayed is justice denied. We have waited...  It is the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time is neutral."

It is time we had this race conversation about differential justice. That some white folks are not ready to do so is nothing new.

Robert J. Hironimus-Wendt
Professor of Sociology
Western Illinois University