NFL legend Mike Ditka may have had the worst take of all time this week when he said, “There has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of.”
The former coach and star tight end of the Chicago Bears appeared on Jim Gray’s national radio show ahead of Monday Night Football, Oct. 9 to talk football, protests, and apparently his rudimentary knowledge of American history. Gray even tried to help Ditka out of the hole he dug for himself, citing the social activism of athletes like Muhammed Ali and Jesse Owens. Instead, Ditka doubled down (emphasis added):
“I don’t know what social injustices [there] have been. Muhammad Ali rose to the top. Jesse Owens is one of the classiest individuals that ever lived. I mean, you can say, ‘Are you (saying) everything is based on color?’ I don’t see it that way. I think that you have to be color blind in this country. You’ve got to look at a person for what he is and what he stands for and how he produces, not by the color of his skin. That has never had anything to do with anything.”
The color of someone’s skin has never had anything to do with anything. Let me put that in bold so you can really see the foolishness of this take: The color of someone’s skin has never had anything to do with anything.
Well, Mike Ditka, I’ve got some news for you. There has, in fact, been oppression against people of color in the last 100 years.
Lynchings, Jim Crow laws, the war on drugs, mass incarceration, the 1994 crime bill, gentrification, gerrymandering, ICE raids, police shootings, and more. But hey. I get it. How could we expect someone like Mike Ditka to recall a century’s worth of discrimination, hatred, and bigotry, what with all those concussions he (probably) incurred, coupled with the insular world wealthy white men of advanced age tend to create for themselves.
Ditka and his ilk may feign ignorance about the history of this country, but their willful ignorance doesn’t erase the systemic oppression happening right this second.
So if 100 years is too much to consider, here are nine examples of oppression against people of color from the last 100 days.
And, frankly, most of these are from the past month. Just because it’s not happening to you, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Take a seat, Ditka. I’m about to drop some knowledge.
1. The public skewering of Jemele Hill
ESPN journalist Jemele Hill was suspended from the network over tweets calling out Jerry Jones for threatening to fire any players who kneel during the national anthem. She’s been publicly attacked by the president, who she called a white supremacist. Meanwhile, Hank Williams Jr. was recently invited back to ESPN after seemingly likening President Obama to Hitler and outright calling him “the enemy.”
2. Terror and fear in Charlottesville
White supremacists terrorized the college town of Charlottesville, Virginia, the weekend of Aug. 11-13. They brought lit tiki torches and weapons and marched menacingly — supposedly to protect the city’s Confederate monument. Counter-demonstrators came out to protest the presence of hate groups and intimidation in their community. A black man brutally attacked at the rally was recently arrested because he allegedly injured one of his attackers during the brawl (presumably in self-defense). When asked about the violence and tumult in Charlottesville, President Trump said there was “blame on both sides.”
3. Destruction is met with heartlessness in Puerto Rico
Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. Most people on the island are still without water or electricity. The president criticized the mayor of San Juan for her “poor leadership,” then he took his time getting supplies and resources to residents and threw paper towels into the crowd. His administration also briefly hid data about the recovery effort.
4. The relentless stream of anti-Muslim rhetoric and vandalism
In the last month, there have been acts of anti-Muslim vandalism in Farmville, Virginia; Portland, Oregon; Bellingham, Washington; Raleigh, North Carolina; and more. 2017 is on track to be one the worst years ever for anti-Muslim hate crimes.
5. The co-opting of the NFL protest against inequality
Kneeling during the national anthem began as a silent way to protest police violence and inequality against against black and brown people. Athletes and fans choosing to kneel have been met with racial slurs, death threats, and threats to their employment. A black fan seated during the anthem at a pre-season Lakers game was reportedly attacked by two white women. At the same time, Terrelle Pryor, a black NFL player, says he was called the n-word so much during a game, he had to have an NFL employee step in to assist. (In case you’re curious, he didn’t kneel during the anthem, but maybe he should have).
6. Dove’s careless advertisement that centered white beauty ahead of everything else
This ad from Dove, which appeared on Instagram, shows a black woman removing her shirt and skin to reveal a white woman underneath. Think of all the people who had to OK this before it got to Instagram. Now ask yourself why so many people thought it was OK to dismiss black women in that way, to ignore how the ad could be seen as portraying black women as dirty, unworthy, or not beautiful?
7. America’s dangerous obsession with memorializing the Confederacy
New monuments to the Confederacy have been planned and built, even in Union states. This is not a celebration of history. It’s intimidation and propaganda. Or to put it another way: oppression.
8. The legitimization of Roy Moore
Roy Moore is the Republican candidate for Senate in Alabama. Real talk: He’s an anti-Muslim, homophobic asshole who seems to enjoy terrorizing marginalized people. And he’s favored to win.
9. The acquittal of Jason Stockley
In 2011, St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley shot Anthony Lamar Smith five times. While in pursuit of Smith’s vehicle, Stockley said, “we’re killing this motherfucker, don’t you know.” Stockley didn’t apply wound-care even though another officer on the scene testified that Smith appeared alive. Stockley may have planted a gun in Smith’s car. What does this have to do with the last 100 days? Well, Stockley was found not guilty of murder on Sept. 15, 2017. For weeks, people have taken to the streets of St. Louis to protest the verdict and demand justice for Smith.
OK, Ditka, step aside for a second. Time to talk to the people ready to do something about willfully ignorant people like you.
Just like oppression itself, willfully ignorant people are common and dangerous. They don’t understand that “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” is not a solution. It’s a myth. This is especially true if you don’t have boots (figurative or literal) to start with.
“I mean, I don’t see all this, the social injustice that some of these people see. I don’t. I know my dad worked in a steel mill and he brought home a paycheck and we ate dinner every night together. We didn’t have anything, but we didn’t need anything because we had a family. That was a good time in America. I would like to see us get back to that.”
Ditka was 10 years old in 1949. WWII had just ended four years earlier and Brown v. Board of Education wouldn’t rule to integrate schools for another five years. So it’s safe to say that wasn’t a great time for everyone in America — just people who looked a lot like Ditka.
That’s why people like him are so dangerous. They simply don’t see the hatred, bigotry, and systemic oppression that our country was built on. And if they can’t see it, they will do absolutely nothing to stop it, and they could use their privilege and power to make matters worse.
What can you do about it? Speak up.
We all know a Ditka: Someone who just doesn’t get it and just doesn’t want to. Don’t let them off the hook. Don’t stay silent. Have those tough conversations. Call them out on their BS. Hit them with facts, figures, and the truth. Speak out against acts of oppression, and support candidates and companies that do the same.
Because whether it comes from a windbag of a football coach (sorry, Bears fans) or your dear old aunt, willful ignorance is willful ignorance. And if we want to dismantle systemic oppression, dropping knowledge is a damn good place to start.
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