Is the backlash over NFL kneeling racist?

The Washington Post found “experts” (its term in the paper edition) who think so. I don’t (though there must be white racists who are criticizing the kneelers, just as there must be black racists who are praising them).

The Post’s experts seize on the fact that some who criticize the kneelers cite the players’ wealth and accuse them of being ungrateful. For example, Newt Gingrich said that players should be “respectful of the national anthem and flag on behalf of the many Americans who have died defending your right to become a millionaire.”

Does that sound racist to you? Me neither.

However, Khalil Muhammad, a professor of history, race, and public policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, says the argument that professional athletes are ingrates suggests they didn’t work for their wealth, and reflects a sentiment that people of color receive preferential treatment over whites.

Professor Muhammad is either a charlatan or a moron. Virtually everyone understands that blacks, though the beneficiaries of preferential treatment in some contexts, do not receive it in sports. Nor are there many who believe, as a general matter, that professional athletes of any race haven’t worked hard to get to the pros.

And, of course, athletes of all races are routinely accused of being ingrates when they go on strike or threaten to.

The logical way to think about the allegations of racism in connection with the response to kneelers is to ask what the response would be if white athletes disrespected the National Anthem in the same way some black athletes have. It’s clear to me that they would be widely assailed as ingrate millionaires.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there were frequent displays of overt disrespect for America and its symbols by young white Americans. There was also a strong backlash. Richard Nixon denounced such protesters as “bums” and rallied the “silent majority” against them.

Since many of the protesters attended college and came from well-off families, there was a class component to the backlash. Protesters were seen as spoiled and “effete.” They were objects of contempt.

That’s what ostentatious displays of lack of disrespect for America get you, whether you’re black or white.

Leah Wright-Rigeur, also of Harvard’s Kennedy School, is another of the Post’s experts. She finds racism in criticism of black athletes for making political statements. “It’s about who is allowed to complain, whose voices are allowed to be heard and who is allowed to discuss America and its institution,” she informs us.

No it isn’t. White entertainers who criticized President Bush and Iraq War were characterized as rich elitist and told to “shut up and sing.” The notion that athletes and entertainers shouldn’t speak out is misguided, but has nothing to do with race.

Nor is Wright-Riguer’s claim of racism supported by her observation that conservatives are fine with athletes and entertainers who convey a message they want to hear. That’s evidence of partisanship, not racism.

It seems that the ability to think logically about race is not a requirement for being an expert on the subject — not at Harvard or on the pages of the Washington Post, anyway.

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