My mother loves Michael Harriot. I know this, not because she has told me thousands of times, but because she has loved me. She kisses me on my cheek. She hugs me tighter than Young Thug wears his skinny jeans. We have long, meandering phone conversations. She praises me for every little thing I do well. She encourages me when I fall.
And she criticizes me often.
Whenever I do something wrong (which is often), she is unafraid to call me out on it. She says I cuss too much. She thinks I am sometimes too mean to people when they say something a little bit stupid, a little racist or a tiny bit homophobic. She usually does it privately, but when I was a child, she sometimes called me out on my bullshit (sorry, Ma) publicly. She didn’t care if it was in the front pew at church or in front of my friends. She didn’t do it to shame me or because she hated me. She did it because she wanted me to change. She wanted me to be better.
Michael Bennett Jr. loves America.
I know this, not because he has said it a thousand times. Not because he was raised by a father in the military. I know this because I have seen him love America. He founded a charity to help minority education in science, technology, engineering and math. He quietly pledged to donate every penny of endorsement money this year to nonprofits that empower underserved children and women of color. He has raised money for Charleena Lyles, a mother of three killed by Seattle police. Whenever America does something wrong, he is unafraid to call it out on its bullshit.
On Sunday, before a preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Bennett refused to stand for the national anthem. He sat quietly on the bench while the rest of the stadium stood in reverence. He did it because he is a true patriot. He did it because he wants the nation to change. He did it because he loves America.
“I think that with everything that’s been going on, especially the last couple of days,” the Pro-Bowl defensive lineman said, “seeing everything that’s going on in Virginia ... I just wanted to be able to use my platform to continuously speak on injustice.”
There is sure to be harsh criticism of Bennett’s stance. Some will say he is disrespecting the flag (even though no one can ever explain how sitting for a song is disrespectful to an entirely different object). Others will say his stance dishonors “the troops.” (Again, how, Sway? As a matter of fact, who are these “troops” who are so offended? Are they the troops who “solemnly swear to defend the Constitution of the United States”? Or the troops like Michael Bennett Sr., who instilled the values his son espouses?)
Many will call him unpatriotic. Those people are idiots. Those people are liars. Those people do not understand love.
Love is walking full-hearted and empty-handed across the Edmund Pettus Bridge toward baton-wielding state troopers with the star-spangled banner stitched on their sleeves, ready to break your skull. Love is throwing a black fist in the air on the Olympic podium. Love rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love says, “Ain’t no Viet Cong ever called me ‘nigger.’”
Bennett also said:
First of all, I want to make sure people understand, I love the military. My father is in the military. I love hot dogs like any other American. I love football like any other American. But I don’t love segregation. I don’t love riots. I don’t love oppression. I don’t love gender slandering.
America probably feels ashamed because Bennett and Colin Kaepernick have called her out so publicly, but there are many black people who cannot salute the soundtrack of their own oppression. Some of us cannot fix our mouths to utter the words to the Pledge of Allegiance. It is not because we hate America but because we cannot perpetuate the lie. We will not be complicit in spreading the idea that this country has “liberty and justice for all.”
Even if you disagree with Bennett’s or Kaepernick’s method, categorizing their protests as “un-American” is as big a lie as believing that those broad stripes and bright stars wave over the land of the free and the home of the brave. Who could be offended by the truth? Try as you might, I dare you to find the lie when Bennett said:
People say, “You’re an athlete. You’re making money. You have this Nike endorsement. You have this endorsement, you’re not a part of that society.” At the end of the day, no matter where I go, I’m still a black man, and I can’t get away from that. I can’t get away from the past transgressions of America.
Bennett called America out on its bullshit (again, sorry, Ma), and perhaps that is the greatest love of all.
Watch Bennett’s postgame statement below: