Midway through my sophomore year in college, I noticed some strange bumps on my legs. They looked and felt like bruises, but they were multiplying and I couldn’t imagine how I was bumping into so many things without realizing it.
After several weeks, with new bumps appearing almost daily, I went to the doctor.
He seemed as perplexed as I was. So he did what doctors often do when they don’t know what’s going on. He ordered some labs and sent me on my way.
The next day I left on a choir trip to Wichita, Kansas. I recall how uncomfortable I was on the long bus ride, my shins riddled with what I still assumed were bruises, tender to the touch.
While I was in rehearsal a day or two later, the call came. The doctor’s office had tracked me down in Wichita. When I spoke to the nurse over the phone, she was breathless and urgent. “Your strep levels are dangerously high,” she said. “You’re in danger of developing rheumatic fever if you don’t get antibiotics right away.”
Somebody whisked me off to a pharmacy and I got some penicillin. I was fine. It took a long time for those bumps (known as “erythema nodosum”) to heal and completely fade, but they did.
Strep is a nasty bug. To this day it scares me, because of its insidious ability to thrive undetected.
The truth about infection
Infections don’t have to be physical.
Often, they’re emotional, spiritual. They can fester just beneath the surface. Everything “seems” fine. We go on about our business.
But deep in the bloodstream, infectious bacteria multiply, invading every inch of the body.
Eventually – and it might take years – we begin noticing strange bumps or bruises. Odd-shaped spots that won’t go away, tender to the touch. Symptoms multiply, and we can’t articulate what’s happening or why. All we know is this isn’t normal.
Racism is a nasty bug.
As patriotic as Americans are, we are fools if we deny the infection deep within our foundations. The ideals of liberty and democracy are embedded deep within our fabric, and we should be proud of the opportunity and advantages we possess and citizens. But we also must address the issues that are making us sick.
This country as we know it was built on the backs of black slaves. And this only after the land itself was brutally taken by force from the indigenous people who lived here long before.
There’s much talk these days about remembering our history. There’s outcry over tearing down statues of confederate war heroes because they are part of our story, and how will we ever remember if their statues are removed?
And yet we forget the history that paints us in even darker colors.
Racism is a nasty bug. It’s an infection of the deadliest kind and it’s been here, lurking within the body of our nation, spreading and multiplying and making itself at home.
We’ve bandaged it up a time or two. But we’ve never fully treated it as the infection it is. And infections don’t go away without serious intervention.
Many Americans won’t even admit that systemic racial injustice exists in America.
I could’ve said the same about the bumps on my body. I might have laughed at the nurse over the phone, insisted that I couldn’t be in danger because, honestly, I felt fine.
That would have been a grave mistake.
In Defense of Taking a Knee
So let’s address this issue of “taking a knee.”
The controversy and outrage lately is over NFL players choosing to kneel in protest as the national anthem is played. People are angry and offended. Again.
Let me tell you something about football that you might not know from just watching NFL games.
My oldest son plays on his high school varsity team. Here in Texas. Where football really is like Friday Night Lights.
Every single week, at some point in the game, a player gets hurt on the field. Usually it’s not serious.
But every single time it happens, the play stops, and every member of both teams takes a knee. The crowds in the stand also get quiet. The bands, cheerleaders, and fans all stop their noisemaking and everyone waits silently until the player is able to leave the field.
Did you catch that? Because I think it bears repeating.
They take a knee.
Why? Out of respect for the wounded.
Taking a Knee Isn’t What You Think It Is
We’re so busy getting in an uproar about NFL players supposedly “pissing on our flag” that we haven’t stopped to notice the very action of “taking a knee.”
In football, players take a knee out of respect for the wounded.
But a black man in America can’t “take a knee” out of respect for the systemic injustice toward his fellow black men in America without a bunch of self-righteous, angry white people pitching a fit.
Just another symptom, my friends. Another bump on the leg reminding us this infection runs deep.
“Why during the national anthem?” you scream.
“Why not?” I reply.
When God gives you a platform to speak out against injustice, use it.
An NFL player’s platform just happens to be the chance to appear on national TV in front of millions of viewers.
So he takes a knee. He honors the fallen. He honors those who are wounded, hurting, bleeding, unjustly incarcerated, mistreated, ignored, hated.
The disease that’s killing us
We’re so wrapped up in our red, white, and blue that we can’t see the effects of the disease that’s slowly killing us.
Racism is America’s original sin, and if we don’t get busy curing it, it could very well be our demise.
But you can’t begin the healing process if you won’t even admit there’s a problem to begin with.
It might not seem like much to you. Maybe you don’t notice any symptoms at all. Maybe you have the luxury of white privilege and are free to live in blissful ignorance. But you’re a huge part of the problem if you refuse to admit that our country is riddled with symptoms of infection. If you insist on letting the clock run and going about the game while ignoring the wounded on the field.
Racism is a nasty bug.
Let’s stop pretending it doesn’t exist. Let’s stop ignoring the wounded.
Let’s treat it before it’s too late.