Man oh man, the last few years (and counting) have proven to be very eventful and to some, an enlightening time in this nation’s history with regards to race relations. The struggle against this country’s systemic racist institutions have gained national attention, even worldwide attention and that means the individuals who are tasked with manning these institutions have been put under a microscope..to a degree. Some racists and bigots have been shunned by their not as racist & bigoted peers and contemporaries but in many cases, they have been emboldened to share the loathsome material and elements of their manifesto that occupies the cavernous regions of their inner being with the general public. Although these racists and bigots are already a formidable adversary for those of us seeking to overthrow the yoke of oppression, their ranks have continued to swell with new supporters that are willing, sometimes chomping at the bit to complete the tasks necessary for them to maintain the dominance of those institutions. Now, the majority of these supporters are of the Caucasian variety but more and more of them are of the Black variety. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, the Kneegrow.
In the aforementioned context, the Kneegrow is not a new phenomenon; he/she has been around in some shape or form since the beginning of the struggle of people of color against oppression here in the United States. From subverting slave insurrections to rationalizing white behavior that causes black suffering, the Kneegrow has had a prominent role in American history, if one was to examine the matter a bit closer. Myself and many others have lamented about the relatively slow progress of the civil rights struggle and while there are a myriad of factors and variables that can and have factored into this situation, I believe that one crucial factor has not been given its proper due. The Kneegrow, an agent of the systemic racist institutions, needs to be jettisoned for progress to be achieved. The fight for change is indeed a daunting one and the adversary has enlisted the aid of minions to do his bidding; some even do it without being recruited or courted to do so, all in the hopes of gaining favor, acceptance, or a few crumbs from the adversary’s table.
So, what defines a Kneegrow? A kneegrow is an almost amorphous dynamic in that the traits are not pegged into a clearly defined sphere. There are varying degrees or levels of the Kneegrow but some traits are a staple. For starters, they take and support positions that are championed by proponents of systemic racism. They are very deferential to those systems and seek to rationalize what Blacks can do to fit into the systemic racist institutions instead of seeking reform; in essence, they believe that the onus is on the oppressed (and not the oppressor) to find ways to not be oppressed. The Kneegrow has also bought into the belief of “American exceptionalism” and the whitewashing of American history. He/she is content with being a footnote rather than a main character, a pawn instead of a visionary. The Kneegrow is a person that will suffer at the hands of an abuser repeatedly and with no other variable introduced, they will expect the abuser to eventually come to their senses and realize the error of their ways. In that scenario, the Kneegrow will even rationalize the abuser’s reasoning for their actions and may go as far as denying that the abuse had even occurred or minimize the degree of abuse. Kneegrows are not bound or constrained to a political party or political belief system. While it is easy to identify the Kneegrows that call the GOP home, there are Kneegrows that have roots in the Democratic party as well. Depending on the situation and subject matter, these type of Kneegrows can be the most efficient because they play on the traditional political affiliation strings to secure trust. Plain and simple, the Kneegrow lacks honor, conviction, and dignity.
The recent furor over the University of Oklahoma’s SAE fraternity and the racist chants that were captured on video exposed more racists as well as their Kneegrow agents and consequently drew my ire. After the story had made the media rounds and saturated the blogosphere, one of the leaders of the racists chants emerged at a press conference in Oklahoma City to “apologize” for his role in the incident. What he said and his “heartfelt” emotions are not as important to this article as WHO he was being supported by. Almost on cue, the chant leader was surrounded by local civil rights leaders, members of the clergy, civic associations, etc. who said that they had met with the young man, heard his thoughts on the issue, and wanted to support his act of “goodwill” in coming to seek their counsel. Now, the act of forgiveness is not lost on me and I fully understand the impact that genuine acts of contrition can have in mending divisions. This instance did not meet that criteria and once again, the Kneegrow is quick to rationalize the shameful behavior of the antagonist. Trading their dignity for a few minutes of of national exposure seemed like a worthwhile exchange to those Kneegrows and the chant leader was allowed to slink away.
Another Kneegrow who exposed himself recently is the rapper/actor, Common. Fresh off of the critically acclaimed song, “Glory” from the movie Selma as well as the impassioned Oscar acceptance speech that he gave alongside singer/songwriter John Legend, Common was making the rounds as a media circuit darling. He was saying the “right” things that were more or less in line with the spirit of what the Selma movie was about. He even pledged solidarity and linked the events that have been transpiring in Ferguson, Missouri to being a modern day “Selma”. Then the Kneegrow in him emerged and he showed his true colors during an appearance on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” last week. While on the set of the show, Common stated that for racism to end, Blacks must extend a hand in love to white people, forget about the past, and move forward. In typical Kneegrow fashion, he forgets about his proclamations about the parallels regarding the events in Selma and Ferguson (1960s civil rights era and present day civil rights) and takes the deferential position that entails that the oppressed be the ones to end racism..that the oppressor clearly has an invested interest in keeping solvent.
Given the proper time and situation, Kneegrows will show off their true colors. It is a badge of honor that they wear proudly and they bubble with joy at the opportunity to showcase their shucking and jiving talents. Now, being a Kneegrow is not necessarily a life sentence. Many Kneegrows have embarked on the path of being a quintessential steward of systemic racism and later realized that they were in a situation in which they were working against their own interests. All too often, by the time they have experienced this epiphany, they have spent a considerable amount of time destroying their credibility and are often occupying a space usually reserved for pariahs.
One of the traits of Black America is that we are a forgiving people. America is generally seen as a land of second chances and in Black America, this dynamic takes on a greater urgency. Blacks are often reluctant to completely disavow “one of their own”, even though one of their own had shunned the interests of Black America a long time ago. There is a difference between having monolithic thoughts, actions, and behaviors and forging & maintaining solidarity for the greater good through discourse that is outside of the mainstream consciousness. Having a difference of opinion and ideas outside of the norm can be a boon to any movement. Having a difference of opinion that continue to prop up the tenets of systemic racism is unacceptable. Kneegrows are ancillary gatekeepers of the systemic racist systems and need to be dealt with accordingly as I stated at the beginning of this piece. Only when the dead weight has been shed will a true path to civil rights progress be realized.