I tell my kids of another type of “respect” that is very old and insidious. It is one that no one talks about, but the type that is implied every single time a black person protests any injustice.
By Jonita Davis
When my son was five, we signed him up to play America’s game. No not baseball—football! It was the Pop Warner League, which worked to teach young boys the basic football skills. I remember spending August through October at the side of the field with other parents (because the coach had threatened us at orientation with “the boot” if we wandered onto his field during practice and games) as we watched the tiny guys clad in tanks, tees, and cleats running around the field like little bobbleheads in their helmets. The coach, whose kid was also on the team, told us that he only had a few goals for the boys that year:
- To learn respect for adults
- To learn to work as a team
- To learn the basics of football
- To form a straight, unmoving line on the field
No one time during my son’s career as a Tiny-Mite or Mitey-Mite Wolf did his coach ever talk about patriotism, the military, or the president. The talk was always about the team and the game. There was a lot of talk about respect though, just not the same type of respect that people are shouting for in social media, the White House, or on the conservative news.
Before my son retired from the Wolves to dedicate his time to comics, video games, and now the JRROTC, he learned the definition of the word “respect,” the same form of the term that I continued to use in the house. In fact, I gather that parents all over rely on this definition to help nurture, protect, and discipline their kids to adulthood. Unfortunately, the political pundits, social media trolls, and even the President have perverted that definition. After the fallout from recent sports news on firings, protests, and boycotts, it can be quite confusing to explain how respect even applies the way they use it versus the way parents rely on the word. In short, one of the uses is wrong and it’s not the one mama use when they tell junior to “respect his elders.”
Actually, there are four major definitions of respect, according to Merriam Webster. One deals with location, the second with “consideration,” the third “esteem,” and the fourth with “detail.” The type of respect that my son learned from his coaches long ago, the same type that parents rely on in raising their kids is the consideration form of respect. This definition says respect is “an act of giving a particular type of attention.” On the field, this means the boys were taught to stand with their hands clasped, heads up, ears open, and eyes on the coach.
This type of respect requires that one person take a leadership role over the person giving special attention. In football, the coach watches the entire game to not only figure out the best way to win. He ensures that the players are safe and the refs are fair. He is concerned for the player’s health and wellbeing in addition to their skills. In return, the players give him their full attention; they not only hear him but trust his words enough to act on them without question.
The second type of respect is actually the one we are dealing with this week. It is the one being confused with the consideration type and then misused. The esteem form of respect requires only that one person hold another “in high or special regard.” The person asking for this respect does so because another person or symbol has shown somehow that they are special and somehow deserving the “high regard.” This respect also requires that the person giving the respect actually like that person or symbol being esteemed. The person being esteemed must also somehow favor the person respecting him.
I found myself consulting this definition and forms when I explained to my kids how the word “respect” was being misused by President Trump after the NFL protests this past weekend. The President recently decided to weigh in last week, calling the players “sons of b—-‘s” and implying that the owners should fire any player kneeling during the anthem. He later tweeted:
If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!
His supporters echoed the “disrespect for the flag and the anthem” complaint. This is not the first time that the President and his base have called for the firing of a person of color based on the argument of “disrespect.” ESPN reporter Jemele Hill tweeted that the President was a “white supremacist” on her personal Twitter page after her work on air was finished. She wasn’t fired, but there was an outcry from Trump and his base for her firing. Then, last week Steph Curry announced that he would not accept an invitation to the White House that was extended to the Golden State Warriors. Trump tweeted to rescind the invitation after the fact and once again attacked a sports figure for “disrespect.”
The cries of disrespect grew louder after this past weekend when several professional football teams participated in the kneeling protests, by locking arms and kneeling, simply locking arms, or refusing to leave the locker room until the anthem concluded. Team owners and coaches joined in. On Monday night, the Dallas Cowboys owner, coaches, and teammates joined the protest as well.
After explaining all of these events and how they relate to one another, I delved into the fact that the people mad enough to start the #BoycottNFL claim to do so because all these athletes and sports figures are disrespecting the American flag, the anthem, and the office of the President. But, remember those definitions of respect? The one they are trying to cite is the “esteem” variety that requires a person to “hold someone or something in high regard,” according to the dictionary. Who are we holding in high regard? The President? He’s the guy calling for immigrants and black people to lose their jobs and calling them names and ignoring the original reason for the protest.
And, let’s look at that original reason. There are so many people who still believe that the black community has no reason to complain. Remember our talk on the police shootings? Do you remember when we talked about Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin and so many other people? So, the President does not believe these things to be a problem. Do you remember our talk about Charlottesville? So, do we hold this person in high regard? No. Do we have reason to refuse this type of respect? Yes. Furthermore, the flag and anthem stand for the country we live in, where the laws allow this stuff to happen. The players are protesting the laws. This means they don’t hold the country in high regard either.
Disrespect is “the lack of respect” or “insult” connected to the lapse in respect. If we really look at the definitions of the words, the players, Jemele Hill, Steph Curry, and others supporting #TakeTheKnee have no obligation to respect the President or the country. As for the flag, take a look at the U.S. Code on the display of the flag and you will see that the way we wear, eat, lay, and display our flag is wrong anyway. Despite that, we don’t consider such behavior as insulting or disrespectful.
#TakeTheKnee is a protest. It is peaceful, but it is also a show of disagreement, dissatisfaction. It is not disrespecting because another requirement for respect was ruined by the country and the President, hence the protest.
It is here that I tell my kids of another type of “respect” that is very old and insidious. It is one that no one talks about, but the type that is implied every single time a black person protests any injustice. It is the “respect” white supremacy demands from every black, indigenous, and person of color (BIPOC), in return for allowing their existence in this United States.
Since the days of slavery, white supremacy has demanded that black and Native Americans show “special attention to” the white people in this country for allowing our brown skinned ass to remain in this land. I talk briefly of Jim Crow when “respect” was a matter of life and death. Today, that sense of “respect” is still implicit in our society and can be seen every time there is a protest involving black lives, black athletes, or even Native Americans protecting their water supply. Thus, the old shouts of “disrespect” mirror those being launched at the NFL. They have a darker origin that few people will acknowledge.
That’s what I shared with my kids. Yes, I told them about the President’s base and explained that the #BoycottNFL people are the ones who need to take a seat and actually listen to what is really being said here, instead of trying to silence the protestors with a misunderstanding of a word.
But, how do you get people who have been conditioned to feel superior to others to now step aside and listen to very same people they looked down on for generations? That’s why this is such a big deal, kids.
We as parents must take back this word before its misuse begins to confuse the kids and cause frustration when we need it to help us redirect, nurture, discipline, and ease our children into maturity. I want my son to remember from his football career that respect goes to the adults who have your best interest in mind. It is not determined by the talking heads in Washington trying to win points in the polls or close-minded Americans who refuse to hear the plight of the black community.
I want him to remember that protest is a peaceful, respectful form of showing that he’s unhappy or that he disagrees with the leadership. I want him to remember that we live in a country where these liberties are granted to every citizen, and no one can tell you how to use them.
Author Bio: Jonita Davis is a writer, lecturer, and mother who loves to write about the places where parenting, race, and pop culture intersect. You can catch her on Twitter as @SurviTeensNtots or at www.jonitadavis.com.