Recently my daughter said to me, “Me too,” echoing the apparently rampant sexual harassment in our country, now and in the past. Most of us men do not see this, and some, unfortunately, practice it, especially men with power and position over women.
My daughter was speaking “truth to power.” She is a veteran teacher in New York City and an active member of an offshoot of Black Lives Matter. She and I agreed that the racial climate in the U.S. also requires a large dose of truth to power, challenging male privilege overlapping white privilege.
Many women are fed up with male privilege on steroids, and apparently Colin Kapernack, and an increasing number of black athletes, male and female, are fed up with white privilege. Perhaps I am not the only person to see the parallel; but both groups are flexing, with newfound anger, truth to power.
Many women are still afraid to go public about their experience with powerful men; and no doubt some black athletes, especially among the Dallas Cowboys – told they’d lose their jobs if they took a knee during the national anthem – are also reluctant to go public. Speaking truth to power risks overwhelming commitment. The President tweeting, “Fire the SOBs” did not help.
Most Americans profess revulsion over sexual harassment, never mind rape; but given the outpouring of anecdotes, many people, including some women, have been complicit. In contrast, many white Americans see the athletes’ protests as unpatriotic, and not truth speaking to power. I think this denies their right to exercise their freedom of speech on the field or in the gym when millions of fans are watching on TV.
We are at a crucial moment in our history, when power and privilege often drown out truth. But this is now changing as traditional norms of power, whether in the workplace, Hollywood, or pro football stadiums, are increasingly challenged by truth-tellers. Women are fighting back, and black athletes are echoing the quiet resolve of civil rights leaders 50 years ago who challenged hatred, fire hoses and dogs.
When my boyhood friend Richard, as young man and former Marine, organized youth in our Illinois hometown into a “Black Power” group and challenged the local power structure, that my father has been part of during the 50s, about housing and jobs, he told me that the FBI was watching him. A year later he died in a freak car accident. All I got that summer of 1967 speaking my truth to power was an FBI file.
As Americans we are privileged to have the freedom to bring truth to power. Americans have fought a revolution, a civil war, and two world wars to win and protect this right, and our volunteer military continues that proud tradition. What is sorely missing today is more willingness to respect assertive women, and athletes we love to cheer.
I do not want my daughter, or her sister or mother, to fear men with power; and I want the athletes we love to support to express their sense of truth respectfully but unreservedly.
David C-H Johnston of West Hartford is the Director of Center for Higher Education Retention Excellence.