Shoutout to the Super Bowl for making this post super easy for me to write.
Because what happened in the days leading up to the game, during the pre-show and halftime show are perfect examples of what Black Pawns on White ChessBoards looks like in action.
In case you didn’t watch the coverage, let me give you a quick rundown:
- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and some team Owners along with some of the players toured Atlanta and visited every Black historical landmark in the city. Lots of photos and videos were taken. They spent time with Dr. Martin Luther King’s daughter at the King Center and the MLK National Historical Park. Lots more photos and videos were taken.
- Fast-forward to Sunday night’s game. It’s time for the coin toss. Who is there to toss the coin but Martin Luther King’s daughter, Bernice! Alongside her are Civil Rights Movement heroes John Lewis, currently a Congressman from Georgia in the House of Representatives, and Andrew Young, currently an Ambassador to the United Nations … And who is singing the National Anthem? The legend that is Gladys Knight. And on hand to sing America the Beautiful are Beyonce-mentored up-and-comers Chloe & Halle.
- Fast-forward to the halftime show. Who is performing? Maroon 5 is the headliner — and they bring current rap superstar Travis Scott and Atlanta-native Big Boi from the legendary group Outkast on stage with them.
Now in case you’ve missed it, the NFL has been the center of controversy for some time over its treatment of Black players for quite awhile. And the biggest controversy of all is their banishing of Colin Kaepernick for his peaceful, non-violent protest against the murders of unarmed Black people by police during the playing of the National Anthem. Kaepernick, who chose to kneel during the National Anthem, is currently suing the NFL for collusion by blackballing him from employment because of his protest. Many fans have stopped watching football in support of Kaepernick’s right to protest and in support of the issue his protest is about. Many celebrities turned down offers to perform at the game this year in solidarity with Kaepernick.
But not Bernice King, John Lewis, Andrew Young, Gladys Knight, Chloe & Halle, Travis Scott or Big Boi.
Ultimately, what everyone does is their business. These individuals can choose to support or not support whatever they want. These individuals can choose to align or reject any social justice issues they want. These individuals can get paid by whomever they want.
I have no doubt that Dr. Bernice King and Representative Lewis and Ambassador Young believe what they tweeted about being welcoming and present at the events to advocate for #JusticeForAll and the state they call home. All 3 of them have done more advocacy and had more impact on civil rights than I ever have. They don’t owe anyone anything and they don’t have to continue to take up the mantle for this new generation … Yet their presence left me and a large part of Black Twitter feeling some kinda way.
The same goes for Gladys (who was specifically outspoken toward Kaepernick in defense of her decision to sing the National Anthem) and Chloe & Halle and Travis Scott (who basically lied and said Kaepernick gave his blessing on his performance) and Big Boi … They all do charitable work in their communities and around the world. They don’t own anyone any explanation for how or when they book a gig and collect a check … Yet I found myself questioning why on this gig and hoping the answer is more than just money and exposure.
In the end, only one thing is clear to me:
Every single one of these celebrities played themselves.
The NFL used these celebrities to make themselves out to look like an organization concerned with inclusion and equity. The NFL handpicked veterans of the Civil Rights Movement for photo-ops at the MLK Center and National Park so others would perceive them as a group that supports diversity and equality. The NFL did this to cause confusion among Black people and to downplay social justice causes while looking like they are making efforts to be progressive, open and inclusive.
The NFL chose Black celebrities with long histories and budding histories of activism and outspokenness to assist them without regard for what this would do to those people. Their message. Their brand. Their commitment to the never ending fight for equality … It’s tarnished. Not damaged beyond repair — but this moment will always be a “WTFWTT” on the list of things they participated in and supported.
Those Black celebrities will pay some price for their participation. Don’t believe me? Google Chrissette Michelle.
And the NFL will go right back to being who they were before they came up with this doomed marketing strategy to try and save the Super Bowl and next seasons NFL games from low viewership and ratings.
Black Pawns on White ChessBoards
What happened with the NFL and these Black celebrities is what this game always looks like.
- Some White-led organization lacks diversity and/or does something that makes them look super-racist
- Organization digs in and doubles-down on its lack of diversity and/or super-racist thing when called out
- Organization’s sales drop and/or Organization goes viral so Organization gets Advisors to help them save their reputation
- Organization partners with or hires a bunch of Black people to improve their reputation upon advice of the Advisors
- Organization’s reputation improves. Black people’s reputation and/or mental health suffers. Advisors collect their check and move on to the next Organization in crisis
The problem with the game of Black Pawns on White ChessBoards is that it isn’t sincere or focused on lasting solutions based in substantive change. It is putting a band-aid on a situation that requires reconstructive surgery. It will never be successful in the long-term — and the only one that suffers is the patient … The pawn. The misguided Black person who sacrificed their reputation, health and legacy for an Organization that was never committed to lasting improvement.
We cannot stop Organizations from experimenting with marginalized people in an effort to look more progressive than they are legitimately prepared to be. We cannot stop Organizations from publicly partnering with well-known marginalized people in order to save or restore their public face after a negative event. This reaction should be expected at this point. It is a tale as old as time, a classic song played over a new beat.
When you find yourself confronted with a White ChessBoard and you suspect you’re being Pawned, ask yourself:
- What is this Organization’s history in this area?
- What are 5 – 10 examples of initiatives or accomplishments in the last 6months – 1year that demonstrate a sincere commitment by the Organization in this area?
- Do I believe this offer is sincere or is the Organization trying to save face / experiment by partnering with me?
- Besides money and exposure, what will my brand and legacy gain from this?
- What would ((insert name of a Black leader you know, love a respect)) do
at their Woke-est moment if offered this opportunity ?
If your answers to these questions are not positive, you’re probably being pawned. Walk away.
We have to stop twisting ourselves into pretzels and sacrificing our legacies for people and organizations who have proven themselves unwilling to match our efforts. We have to stop actively participating in our own detriments. This is traumatizing, abusive and dysfunctional.
And if we’re going to choose to play the game, we have to be smarter. We have to study the rules and play to win. We have to require more before we put ourselves in these compromising situations — both in compensation, effort and resources. We have to demand specific written commitment to continued action for after all the dust settles.
If we aren’t prepared to do that, we should take our chess pieces and go. Otherwise, the game will eat us alive.