I remember when I first learned that the deployment of young people during the protests, marches, boycotts and sit-ins to defeat Jim Crow was strategic.
Even as a kid, when I watched footage of that era, it was easy to notice that many of the people getting arrested, beaten, fire-hosed and bit by dogs were, well, kids—high school and college students, specifically. But I didn’t realize that it was intentional until my parents taught me. And the way my dad articulated why, particularly, has stuck with me for 30 years: “Even the worst white people could see that beating on kids was wrong.”
Messaging and speeches and agendas are great and necessary. But they don’t induce the immediate and visceral reaction that images—still or moving—can. Hearing how fucked up segregation and racism are just doesn’t have the same impact as seeing a 17-year-old with a bloodied forehead from a police baton.
Anyway, earlier today, Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins provided America with a similar lesson. Of course, the circumstances are vastly different. Jenkins is a rich and famous professional athlete with status, privilege and a large platform. He is not an 18- or 19-year-old in 1950s or ’60s Alabama or Mississippi. And while his life, as a black person in America, is more tenuous than a white person’s life, he’s not in the same sort of ceaseless mortal danger as those aforementioned teens.
But responding to droning, inane and unending questions and the intentional misinterpretations of the NFL players’ anthem protests with signs articulating exactly why they’re doing this was clever, bold and, all things considered, black as fuck. Because he knows, as they knew back during Jim Crow, that while (white) America has a selective-hearing problem, even the worst white people can see posters.