Taking a knee
The only person nursing junior Demi White told about her decision to take a knee during the national anthem was her boyfriend.
White, who has been on the dance team of the MSU Spirit Squad for two years, waited a year before she knelt for the first time during MSU’s game against Bowling Green on Sept. 2, 2017, a gesture stemming from NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began the movement in 2016 to protest police brutality and racism.
“There’s a lot going on, especially with the (Donald) Trump presidency,” White said. “My protest had nothing really to do with his comments, it was more personal. I can’t honestly stand there and say, ‘land of the free, home of the brave’ and mean it with my own heart. ... I feel like I’m lying to myself.”
When she took a knee for the first time on the field at Spartan Stadium in front of thousands of people, she said she was nervous. Her hands were shaking the entire time, and afterwards, she walked off the field in a daze, she said.
“We got back to the end zone and the other black girl on my team came up to me with tears in her eyes and hugged me, and we both cried on the sideline for a bit and shared that moment,” White said.
After that game, White said her coach also hugged her and told her she supported her decision, letting her know she’s there for her if she ever needs anything. The positive responses and encouragement she received from her peers, athletes and the coaches shocked her.
“I don’t want to say that being black doesn’t really affect me, because it does, it affects my everyday life, but I don’t think about it until I do,” White said. “The importance to me of taking a knee and being one of the few black dance team members is I have that platform, I can represent what is going on, I can be that voice.”
White has taken a knee at every home football game and at every basketball game she has cheered for, with the exception of Veterans Day weekend because of criticism circling the movement, claiming it to be “anti-military and anti-American” or disrespectful of the flag, she said.
“Both my grandparents were World War II vets, that has nothing to do with it,” White said. “I was kind of scared in the sense that I didn’t know what people’s reactions were going to be. In the kind of world we live in, I was preparing myself for anything.”
But White has not received any negative reactions so far.
Not only did she receive support from the athletic community at MSU, her family showed support as well.
Her father, who coached high school and college basketball and even played for MSU in the 1970s, was especially proud.
But despite the support, she said she still feels like some of her peers don’t understand the protest and what it means.
“You have to take them way back because you can’t explain things to people when they don’t want to listen,” White said. “You just have to start with the history of black people in the United States and all that’s gone on since slaves introduced. ... There’s Jim Crow, there’s redlining, all the things that have made African-Americans disadvantaged and disenfranchised in such a way in the United States.”
To White, taking a knee is about how close police brutality hits home for her and the choice to protest it peacefully.
“There’s a reason, there’s a clear and set reason behind why all of this is the way it is, and we all have to acknowledge that history and make steps to try and repair that,” White said. “When Trayvon Martin was killed, it was kind of like, ‘that really could have been my brother.’ When Sandra Bland was found dead in a police cell, that could have been me.”
In reaction to the multiple professional athletes like Kaepernick, NBA point guard Stephen Curry and NFL running back Marshawn Lynch taking a knee during the national anthem, President Donald Trump called for them via Twitter to be fired, suspended and for their fans not to support them.
But White said she also saw support for the movement and the education of other social justice issues on the platform as well.
“You want them to do something so much, but the only thing that these movements can really bring about is awareness,” White said. “I hope that the awareness can eventually be turned to action and something can get changed.”