Where to begin? I was raised in an almost exclusively African-American neighborhood in Seattle. But I don’t know what it’s like to be a black American. \As a child I was often harassed and threatened by black kids, as well as honored and befriended by others. The first time I saw the movie “The Wiz” with Diana Ross and Michael Jackson was in a theater in downtown Seattle. The theater held 750 people, eight of whom were white; me, my date, two others in another row, and four white police officers walking up and down the aisles during the film. Fifty years later, not much is changed.

I spent most of my academic career studying the African slave trade to America and its continuing impact on American culture. Even the pope in the 17th century thought it was morally good. Jefferson had several children by his slave, Sally Hemings. When John Adams ran against Jefferson in 1800, he published an anonymous broadside to the tune of “Yankee Doodle,” outing Jefferson’s relationship with Heming, including words like “though by her glands she does secrete.” The latter referred to the “scientific fact” held at the time that slaves smelled differently because they urinated out of their sweat glands.

Slavery didn’t end with Lincoln. Racism didn’t end with the Civil War. Honestly, the Civil War has not ended yet. The book “Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II” should be required reading in every high school. It won’t be, though. It’s a difficult book with big words and bigger sorrows. Not the sort of reading a large proportion of white Americans are comfortable digesting. It’s much easier just to have an opinion, not matter how ignorant and uninformed that opinion is.

When I read letters to the editor condemning the kneeling protests by athletes of the NFL, I want to yell at them for being so ignorant and crypto-racist. I want to point out that, originally, the proper way to salute the American flag was to place your hand over your heart and then raise your arm to salute the flag. It was called the Bellamy salute. When Hitler and Mussolini adopted the Bellamy salute (requiring people to stand and perform it to their flags), America responded by abandoning it in 1942, replacing it with the hand over the heart. There are a lot of white Americans, even in Corvallis, who would love to go back to the Bellamy salute.

I was drinking coffee when I read that the owners of NASCAR wouldn’t let that kind of protest occur in their sport. Coffee stains now grace my daily planner. Really? NASCAR? Is the PGA next, followed by the PBA? Of course the Professional Bowlers Association does have a Hall of Fame for Black Bowlers.

As Trump’s minister of propaganda, Sarah H. Sanders, accidentally admitted, the issue is one of black and white. Duh! In Puerto Rico’s recent calamity, the reticence to respond quickly was an issue both of race and language. How many Americans even blinked when Mr. Trump claimed that it was their own fault?

Folks, the American flag has flown over centuries of ... oh my God, why should I have to provide a list of perfidies committed by white America against its African-American citizens?

As far as this white American is concerned, African-American athletes, writers, actors, whatever have every damn right in the world to kneel, turn their backs, hold up a fist or whatever they want during the national anthem. If you don’t understand what they are protesting, why they are protesting, nothing I or anybody else can say will change your mind. And for that, I say “Shame. Shame. Shame on you.”

Michael Coolen is an emeritus professor of music and ethnomusicology who, since 1972, has researched and published professional articles on the African slave trade to America. He lives in Corvallis.


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