The Woodrow Wilson High School Tigers

Who? Well, here’s the link to the relevant article, but in short, they are a high school football team in Camden, New Jersey, composed entirely of black and Hispanic players. With their coach, they decided that they were so disgusted with what they felt the recent wave of controversial shootings of black men by (mostly) white cops had told them about the US, that rather than standing for their national anthem before their games, they would kneel for it. (To be absolutely accurate, the coach decided it was something he personally had to do; all but two of the players then went along with it). Cue outrage, controversy, people getting angry on the internet, a ton of gratuitous abuse for coach and players – basically, everything you would expect from a modern news story.

I have to say that kneeling down during your national anthem is actually one of the milder forms of protest  I can imagine. It’s almost as if you’re making your point by being more respectful towards it than everyone standing up. After all, kneeling down is something you do in a church. That aside, as a response to enforced patriotism by a group of young men who live in deprived, violent parts of a city for which the word “tough” seems inadequate, it’s pretty understandable.

Writing about the ever-patriotic Rudyard Kipling over 70 years ago, George Orwell commented “”What have I done for thee, England, my England?” is essentially a middle-class query. Almost any working man would follow it up immediately with “What has England done for me?”” I think the Woodrow Wilson Tigers are just asking the same question. They don’t exactly come across as swivel-eyed revolutionaries either (what kind of weirdo was, when they were a teenager?). They’re just objecting to the prospect of spending their lives stuck in ghettoes run by dangerous criminals who are the main local source of income, then being shot by either the criminals or the police for choosing the “wrong” side. The coach, Preston Brown, comes across as the sort of dedicated teacher most schools in “difficult” areas would be delighted to have working for them, whatever they thought of his political opinions.

Which brings me to my main point here – I felt about 1000% more sympathetic to the struggles of non-white people in the US as a result of reading this one article than I ever have from reading the usual angry screeds on that subject posted on the internet. Oddly enough, that tends to be the effect I get from anything about minorities written by, or even just quoting at length from, the actual minorities (with the major proviso that people writing or quoted aren’t a self-styled activist with extensive web presence as well).

I think that’s probably because:

  1. It’s a lot easier to take people’s complaints seriously when they actually have something to complain about, as opposed to spending their basically OK lives complaining on behalf of others.
  2. Activists self-select for being willing to engage in confrontational activity and generally attract attention to themselves, with a side order of anger. These are not things that make you very easy to like in ordinary life anyway; add the anonymity of the internet, which allows everyone to act like a jerk, and you can end up with some truly unbearable human beings. They’ll often argue that, in effect, they aren’t trying to make themselves understood/acceptable to the majority, to which my response is – “so how do you expect to achieve your goals, then?” The exact answer varies, but boils down to “ill-defined magic will happen.”
  3. Internet activists all seem to have taken the same degree in Bullshit Studies, which allows them to write in an impenetrable jargon that sucks whatever remaining humanity there was in their writing out of it. When your basic argument boils down to “this is a really unfair way to treat people”, you don’t need all the theorising. It’s just a job-creation scheme for academics.

In the unlikely event that any campaigners for minority rights ever read this, what I got from the Woodrow Wilson Tigers was – if you want to effect change, forget your “allies”, lose your activists and have anyone who’s running a tumblr on your behalf shot at dawn. Send in your human beings instead.

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