Morghan Chambers Makes Some People Uncomfortable
As a volleyball player and student, Morghan Chambers has a lot on her plate. She recently signed with the University of Central Florida, along with her twin sister. Chambers also recently took a knee for racial justice. Like the many athletes who protested before her, she refused to stand during the national anthem. With one selfless act, she once again brought attention to the racial discrimination that Black people experience.
Chambers released a photo along with this quote: “Even if it makes people uncomfortable.”
With a simple tweet, she embodied strength and determination in the face of apathy. As the Black Lives Matter protests fade out of the news headlines, it might seem that many White people are losing interest in kneeling alongside Black athletes. Chambers kneeling in 2021 highlights the different experiences of Black and White people in America. Black people do not have the privilege of becoming complacent or growing weary of fighting against intolerance.
We will not be turned around
or interrupted by intimidation,
because we know our inaction and inertia
will be the inheritance of the next generation.
—“The Hill We Climb,” Amanda Gorman (2021)
America is a nation in search of greatness yet weighed down by its racist past. The country never healed from the antebellum slave era. Jim Crow laws and discriminatory policies ensured that racism kept a seat at the table long after the end of the Civil War. In the modern era, many White people still fight to maintain Confederate statues in public spaces. Their loyalty to a lost cause shows a gap between who America purports to be and who it has been.
Even after witnessing police brutality on video during 2020, many White people hold onto the idea of American exceptionalism. Judging from commentary on social media, some feel uncomfortable seeing Chambers kneeling during the anthem because they are in denial about what the anthem stands for and the crimes this country committed and continues to commit against Black people. Meanwhile, ongoing protests cut into the force-fed narrative that America treats its citizens equally.
Morghan Chambers knelt even though it made White people feel uncomfortable because dismantling racist systems and beliefs is more important than White people’s feelings. Black people find themselves in the grip of a generations-long fight against police brutality. Staying silent won’t save lives. It will only green light the abuses Black people endure in a White-dominated society.
White people should feel uncomfortable about American history. They should also feel uneasy standing during an anthem that disrespects Black Americans. And perhaps their discomfort comes from Black athletes like Chambers knowing what their silence means. White people cannot hide their apathy any longer.
While conservative political commentators often criticize athletes who kneel, they fail to acknowledge the racist lyrics. The national anthem mocks enslaved Africans who fought alongside the British in hopes of winning freedom. Confederates sang the anthem, rejoicing in the racial caste system they fought to maintain. Not only should White people stop judging Black people for kneeling, but they should also join them or accept the full breadth of the lyrics.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave
—“The Star-Spangled Banner,” Francis Scott Key (1814) via Morley & Schwarz (2016)
The anthem celebrated a version of America that embraced slavery. The song calls America the land of the free and home of the brave while simultaneously mocking the pursuit of Black liberty. America’s anthem needs an update. Folks standing to honor this anthem feel comfortable with a version of America that proudly held Africans in perpetual bondage.
If a picture tells a thousand words, what does this one say? For starters, it shows that the White people standing nearest to Chambers have a funny way of showing solidarity. Instead of protesting against injustices alongside Chambers, they placed a hand on each of her shoulders. Twitter users offered a swift rebuke of the horrible aesthetics. Some said that Chambers kneeling while White people stood spoke volumes. Others insisted that White people in solidarity with her would have also taken a knee.
They appeared to be holding her down. Touching her doesn’t mean they understood her or supported her attempts to fight against police brutality and structural inequality. Black men and women die disproportionately in the hands of law enforcement. Federal laws have yet to curtail this demonstrable pattern. However, White people on Chambers’ team couldn’t be bothered to take a knee alongside her. Instead, they laid their hands upon her as if this signified solidarity when it most certainly did not.
Black athletes have a massive platform, and they should continue to use it to highlight the racial discrimination in America. White comfort be damned. While Chambers pulled up to the scene to play volleyball, she made White people feel uncomfortable by taking a knee. This uneasiness is a good thing. Only when all White people feel uneasy about racism will we make better strides in this ongoing battle against intolerance.
Follow Momentum to learn more about the fight against against anti-Black racism and to read stories that showcase the path forward.
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