Instagram is Listening to Me and I Don’t Like It

Normally I’m not a crazy conspiracy theorist, y’all. 

But I feel like I’m losing my damn mind. Lock me up, people. Put me in the crazy bin. It might even be nice in there with all the other folks claiming we didn’t land on the moon. 

I think Instagram is listening to me.  

Why? I mean, I have a solid body of evidence. The most egregious example is that my mom texted me a photo of a particular dress from Banana Republic, then LATER THAT DAY, I was shown an Instagram ad of the exact dress she sent. How does it know?! Why was it reading my texts?? 

I later discovered that Instagram even requires you to give it constant access to your microphone in order to post a “story,” so I started turning the mic off whenever I was finished posting a new “story.” But that still didn’t explain the creepy ad - I never talked about it out loud, so why was I seeing it?  

Even worse - I talked about my sister-in-law being a great hand letterer and that she should go into calligraphy part time. Later that day: 

 

Despite the creep-factor, I moved on from these particular incidents and hadn’t thought much about the Big Brother that is Instagram until my most recent run-in with the Digital Creeps:  

Last week, I was visiting my husband’s family in South Alabama. We were gearing up to celebrate my sister-in-law’s 4th of July-themed baby shower, so my mother-in-law (Kim), sister-in-law (Kaitlyn) and I went shopping. Mac was with me, too.  

We made a stop at Target, then went to Wal Mart. In the middle of our trip, Mac started to get a little fussy, so I decided I’d wait for the other two back in the car. On my way out of the store, I was looking for a bottled water so that I could mix it with Mac’s dry formula and give him a bottle in the car. It was really hard to find a single bottle of water (as opposed to a case or a 6-pack of bottled water) because of where I was in the store: back in the drink section, not at the front in cash wrap.  

The only single-serving water available was a brand called Life Wtr, which I grabbed quickly, along with a birthday card for Jordan’s grandmother, checked out, and left the store.  

Less than 12 hours later, I was scrolling through Instagram and saw an ad for Life Wtr.

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This was striking to me because prior to being in WalMart that afternoon, I’d never even heard of this product. I know, you’re probably thinking, “You’ve heard of it, you just didn’t remember.” We’ll get to that theory in a second. 

What was even more strange about this was that I was being targeted for this ad less than 12 hours after I’d bought the product for first time. Normally, there are a few explanations for how this can happen - someone near you Googles the product and you get an ad; location services are turned on and so Instagram knows that you’re in a WalMart and pushes WalMart’s preferred content; you pay with a loyalty or rewards card and your purchases are logged. 

But none of this was the case for me.  

In fact:  

  • My location services are always turned off  
  • I was alone and no one could’ve Googled the product  
  • I don’t have a loyalty or rewards card for WalMart  
  • I didn’t text or talk about, or Google the product myself  

So how the hell did I get this ad? This felt different to me - it wasn’t something I’d texted about, it was something I BOUGHT. Which made me feel like my privacy was being infringed upon even more - why were my individual purchases being sold to third parties?? 

I went on a fact-finding mission that started with Tweeting (rather aggressively, I’m not gonna lie) at Chase Visa, Instagram, and WalMart asking WTF was up. 

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After Chase assured me via an e-mail later that day that they weren’t selling my information, I put up an Instagram story explaining what had happened. And people started sending theories. I’m talkin’ I had around 40 DM’s in addition to texts and e-mails from people explaining how this might have happened, or telling stories  that something similar had happened to the author of the response. More than any other story I’ve ever posted, a flood of response began, and overarchingly the theory was that the microphones our iPhones are turned on, allowing FB and Instagram to secretly spy. This proved to me that we’re all asking the same question: 

Is Instagram listening to us? 

 

Since the Life Wtr incident, I’ve been poring over articles and listening to podcasts about this very subject. Some articles claim that we’re all deluded; that we’re so obsessed with ourselves that we’re convinced we’re being listened to or targeted when really, it’s a demographic thing and everyone our age is being targeted by similar ads. Excuse, but I call bullshit. There is absolutely something to the fact that we can talk/text/tweet/think about something, then it’s magically in our ads hours (or sometimes even minutes) later.  

Once I listened to a podcast called Reply All’s amazing episode about this (highly recommended for explanations on all this and more), I felt like I actually got some answers.  

Here’s what I uncovered:  

Facebook Pixel. This is something that you probably already know, even if you aren’t able to articulate it. Facebook wants to know what you’re doing when you aren’t on its site, so it has partnered with millions of websites through a system called Facebook Pixel. Pixels follows you around the Internet to different sites and reports back to Facebook what you did. Reply All described it as “an online surveillance system.” That’s why if you may have been shopping for a particular item, then seen an ad pop up on Facebook or Instagram for that exact product minutes later. Other retailers adapted this software, which explains why sometimes you shop for an item, choose not to buy it, and then receive an e-mail about a sale on patio furniture with the EXACT SET OF FURNITURE you were looking at as the very top photo in the e-mail. Not that that’s happened to me recently...

Our friends’ interests curate our ad content. This particular revelation explains why the Banana Republic ad came up in my Instagram feed after my mom texted me about it. Based on the amount you interact with a certain person on social media, Instagram/Facebook assumes that it’s likely you share interests. When one person searches for an item, Pixel remembers that and shows them an ad for it on their Facebook page. If you interact with them enough, chances are, you’re ALSO going to see an ad for it on your Facebook page. The following DM from a buddy of mine is a great example of that happening - likely, Patrick's dad Googling a fire pit meant that Patrick got ads for it, which in turn meant that Jackson got ads for it because Jackson and Patrick interact on social media frequently: 

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They may not be listening to us, but they’re definitely watching. In what may be my creepiest discovery, I read a piece on Gizmodo about researchers who spent a year testing whether their microphones were being accessed by various apps. While their findings didn’t support that the mics were being used, they did discover that their app usage was being watched by a service called AppSee, which literally records what you do within an app and sends that information out to third parties. How long you hover over something, whether you “like” something, etc. Someone also sent me a piece from the New York Times about how our TV’s could also be tracking us and using what shows we watch to control what ads we’re getting on our other electronic devices. 

Facebook buys our personal histories. They know our credit history, credit scores, the square footage of our houses, our income; they learn about what stores we have loyalty cards for and even what products we use those loyalty cards to buy. Some extra invasive examples include how often we buy certain medications, when we've stopped buying birth control, etc. Facebook has broken us all into ultra-specific categories (Reply All even mentioned one called "People Who Pretend to Text In Awkward Situations) in order to provide us with a super-curated experience that keeps us coming back for more. I looked into the categories Facebook has broken me into and it was both odd and revealing, particularly the fact that my affinity group is African Americans (which I love, I'm not gonna lie). Of course, this isn't a complete picture - the 'Book has over 52,000 of these categories. This is just what they've chosen to reveal to us: 

 And to keep us from going completely nuts, keep in mind: 

Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. I remember when I bought my Subaru, there seemed to suddenly be thousands of Subarus in Asheville. (Well...to be fair to me, there actually are thousands of Subarus in Asheville. It’s the basic bitch car of Asheville. I’m just gonna own it.) But I began noticing them way more than I had before. The number of cars didn’t change; my awareness of the cars did. And that’s an example of this phenomenon, which proposes that the world around us isn’t what’s changing - our awareness of that world is, and we mistakenly believe the circumstances around us have changed instead. That explains some things, certainly, but it is also 100% true that we’re being followed around the Internet.  

 

Conclusions and things we can do to protect ourselves:  

Turn off your mic.  
The creepiest discovery I made months back was learning that Facebook and Instagram requires you to toggle your microphone access “on” or “off,” as opposed to every other app that gives users the option to have their mics accessed “only when in use.” Meaning that even when Instagram and Facebook (Insta’s parent company) aren’t being used, they can still access your mic. While it is certainly very unlikely that anyone is spying on us via our mics, given the sheer amount of manpower that would take, it’s still a huge invasion of privacy and a really creepy feature. It’s a pain in the neck to do if you’re someone who regularly uses Instagram Stories, because you have to turn the mic back on each time you want to post, but I think it’s worth it. Also, if you have the Facebook app on your phone...I mean, just delete it. Nothing good can come from that. 

Make payments and deal with sensitive information from a laptop or desktop.  
You’re likely not using an app version of a website on these devices, which makes you less prone to being spied on by services like AppSee, which could, in theory, access your banking/credit card info and passwords (since it records things in real time before numbers and characters turn into little black asterisks). 

Use the Internet as though your history will eventually be published for everyone you know to see. 
 
It BLOWS MY MIND that people are still using the Internet for things they’d be embarrassed for other people to know about. Like, hi, dumb dumbs, we live in 2018. Are you on PornHub like 12 hours a day? Mmmmk well that’s going to eventually come out in a weird and embarrassing fashion. Like, your eulogy will probably just be a robot projecting a scroll of everything you ever searched. No one is safe. If you have naked photos in your iCloud, they’re not safe. If you have a weird foot fetish, we’re gonna know about it. There’s a story on the Reply All episode I mentioned earlier about a man who started seeing ads for White Nationalist groups on his Facebook feed because his brother-in-law was secretly attending White Supremacist meetings. No one knew about these meetings except - you guessed it - Facebook. But now everyone knows. 

Cover your cameras.  
This step definitely makes you look like the Unabomber, but I have a small piece of tape covering the camera on my iPad and laptop. I know it’s highly unlikely that those cameras are being accessed without my permission, but it’s not that unusual for me to be watching a show while getting ready and I’m not prepared for the world to be exposed to my naked body. Especially after a baby. Ya dig? 

Get informed about what the Internet knows about you already.
There are a million articles that detail ways to do this, but this one is great. 

 

In conclusion: you are not crazy, I am not crazy, and the Internet can be a scary place. Big Brother is kind of an inevitability at this point, though there are certainly things that are more benign (getting an ad for a Banana Republic dress) than others (having your app usage monitored and sold). While there are a lot of good explanations for a lot of instances of ad-creepiness, sometimes nothing makes sense (like the Life Wtr situation, which is still unsolved). And that should freak you out. 

One thing is clear: almost nothing is a coincidence in the world of online marketing. And, as a friend of mine who works for a major tech company put it to me last week, “When the app is free, you’re the product." 

Sleep

A note before we start:  

Mac began sleeping through the night at 14 weeks thanks to the Moms On Call program. At about 17 weeks, I had a major drop in my milk supply which caused us to have to start waking him up in the middle of the night for a feeding. For about three weeks, his schedule was blown to smitherines as we worked to get my supply back up. All of that TMI about my lactation (you’re welcome) is in service of saying - my now-6-month-old is sleeping through the night AGAIN. We have now used the Moms On Call principles of sleep training twice, and have seen incredible results both times. So, while I originally drafted this post in April, I believe in it even more now. 

On with the show!  

 

Almost every time someone finds out that Jordan and I are new parents, they wrinkle their brows and sympathetically ask, “Are you getting any sleep?” 

He and I exchange glances and say, “You know, we’re very lucky. Mac is a good sleeper and he hasn’t been too hard on us!”  

But the truth is, while he may have good sleep tendencies, we worked really hard to turn those tendencies into good full-blown habits. His predispositions + our effort = the baby was sleeping from 7 PM to 7 AM at 14 weeks.  

How did we do it? It may surprise you to find that we are far from alone achieving those results. (I’d also like to add a caveat here that Jordan and I simply following the wisdom of folks who’ve come before us. We’re not super parents and we didn’t come up with any of this on our own.) 

As I’ve talked to new mamas about sleep training, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how we chose to go about it. 

What is sleep training?  

Almost all our peers have used a sleep training system, whether it’s Babywise, Moms On Call (MOC), or another book. They’re all basically the same idea - with each developmental stage your baby goes through, he or she needs a certain amount of sleep and a certain amount of calories. These books help you ensure your baby is healthy and thriving, working with what your baby is naturally already doing, in order to give you and your baby structure. It also helps you avoid that moment when you come home from the hospital and think, “NOW what?!” These systems give you an anchor and serve as a guidebook so that you are confident in knowing how to care for that sweet little squishy newborn.

“Sleep training” is actually kind of a misnomer, as it’s not just sleep that you’re helping your child with, but the routine of daily life - eating, burping, diaper changes, play time, and sleeping. 

For example - newborns need much more sleep than older babies, naturally sleeping in three-hour stretches and waking up for about 30 minutes at a time to eat, burp, get changed, and go right back down. Sleep training takes that information and sets you up with a schedule that is the same every day. Our newborn schedule looked like this:  

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 Now that he’s older, it looks like this: 

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When I was thinking about writing this post (because I wish that I had had one to read myself as a new mom), I asked Instagram if it had any questions about how we used MOC. Below you’ll find the questions and the answers!  

 

Are you exclusively breastfeeding or using/supplementing with formula? Does that make a difference with how well Mac is sleeping? 

I was exclusively breast feeding until Mac was 5 months, then started supplementing with formula (using Dr. Brown’s Slow Flow bottles), and started solids at 6 months. In my experience, how well he’s fed has a huge affect on how well he sleeps. Hungry babies are not going to sleep well, which is why following the feedings part of “sleep training” (remember that misnomer?) is just as essential (if not moreso) than following the nap schedule. 

 Did you follow the protocol ridigly or did you make it work for you?  

First of all, we’re certainly not experts OR pediatricians. Everything we did, we ran by Mac’s doctor. But we did see results very quickly, and I think it’s because we trusted the system. Consistency is KEY. I hear lots of parents on social media saying, “This just didn’t work for MY baby. My baby isn’t a good sleeper.” Or, “I don’t want to be so rigid - they’re just babies! Let them be babies!” 

Here’s what I’d say to that: 

Just like adults, babies and children crave consistency. They like and respond to structure - to knowing what’s going to happen next, even if it’s something as simple as, “When we’re done feeding, we’re going to change your diaper. Every time, every day.” By sleep training, you’re not punishing your baby or mistreating them, restricting their freedom or fun - quite the opposite! You’re actually helping your sweet little one to settle down, learn how to function in this big ol’ world, and to know what to expect. How comforting and wonderful is that? But in order to achieve that, you really do have to drill down into your most dedicated self and stick with the program. It can be challenging at times, but it is so, so worth it. If it says to put that baby down for a nap at 10 AM, put the baby down for a nap at 10 AM. Not 10:30, not 9:30, not, “He doesn’t seem sleepy right now,” or, “People have come over to see him so I’m going to keep him up for a little longer.” That’s where the discipline comes in. Babies are relying on YOU to be their advocate - so put that baby to bed! 

(Spoken as someone who has broken all of the rules I just said not to do and learned the lessons the hard way.)  

What do you do when everything blows up in your face and you want to quit/die/drink heavily?  

I’ll be honest and say there were some days that sticking to the schedule was tough. But I knew so many people who saw results using sleep training that it inspired me to stick with it and not give up. That said, one of the most important things I read in early on in MOC was a little section about how “bad nights” and “crazy days” are inevitable. No one, not even the authors of these books, think that parents are capable of sticking to schedule every minute. I mean come on, we’re dealing with tiny people who poop their pants (and sometimes also YOUR pants) with no notice. Ya dig? And on those days, Jordan and I both took a deep breath, rolled with the punches (and sometimes also rolled with a couple of glasses of wine because PARENTING IS HARD), and started fresh the next day. Because there is always a next day. We both committed to each other and ourselves that we wouldn’t throw out the sleep training system at the first sign of trouble - as my mom says, “Some days are diamonds, some days are stones.” Don’t let the stone days rock your world, even if the stone days last for a week straight. Hang in. Wake up every day and decide, “We’re going to keep trying this.” Worth it, I promise. 

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What does bedtime look like?  

The actual, physical routine of bedtime is so huge for us and is another product of MOC. Every single night, Mac gets a bath, has some sweet talking and cuddling time with Jordan and me while I put some lotion on his very dry Scotch-Irish skin. Then we dim the lights and he starts a feeding. When he finishes, I turn on his white noise machine, put him in his Sleep Suit (more on that below), turn off the lights, put him in his crib, and leave the room. This happens at about 7:15 PM, and Mac sleeps until 7 AM the next day.

We have followed that exact routine since he was 3 weeks old (except for the nights during month 4 when he would scream at us for like 30 minutes in between bath time and bedtime. Just mentally add “endure screaming” in between “feeding” and “turning on white noise.” Just trying to keep it real, here, folks. This is the part where you have to decide to persevere). Mac now knows what’s coming next and associates all the bedtime-things with sleep.

How did you teach him to self-soothe? How long did you let him “cry it out?”

Our personal philosophy when he was very little was that if he cried more than three times in the night, I went back up to feed him. Some sleep training systems advocate that you should let your child cry longer than 5 minutes to ensure they aren’t hungry - whatever floats your boat is awesome. I felt like I knew his cries well enough to know that if he was crying that often, it’s because he was still hungry.  

These days, now that he’s older, if he cries within 30 minutes or so of being put down, then one of us will go back up and put his paci back in. But if he starts crying outside that window of time, we let him cry it out. It’s tough, but it’s worth it to be building good sleep habits of self-soothing!

The MOC system has you slowly drop those middle of the night feedings, so you aren't going from "feeding on demand" to cutting them off cold turkey. 

Crying it out is tough, but it serves a purpose. Continuing to run back in and replace a pacifier for your crying child every ten minutes doesn’t serve your baby (and it certainly doesn’t serve you). When you decide that you’re ready to train your baby to sleep through the night (MOC recommends doing this sometime around 4 months), try to think of it as giving your baby tools to learn to settle him/herself down. At 4 months, it’s perfectly okay for your baby to go long stretches (up to 8 hours/beyond)* without being fed, so you aren’t depriving them of nutrition. 

*A note here: keep an eye on your lactation if you’re a breastfeeding mom. Everyone’s body is different, and it may be that if you stop feeding your baby for 12 straight hours, from 7 to 7, your body will interpret that as you weaning your baby, and your supply will drop off. When we were training Mac initially, I pumped at 9:30 and at 5 AM to ensure that my body was still producing enough.  Always run these choices by a lactation consultant/pediatrician if you feel nervous or want clarity. 

If “crying it out” it feels cruel (and it can - Jordan cannot bear to listen to Mac cry, where I don’t have as hard a time with it), then remember these things: your baby is safe. Your baby is loved. Your baby has a dry, clean diaper. Your baby is fed. Your baby is bathed. As MOC says, “Are they abandoned? No!” Sometimes, you have to just go sit on the porch, watch the monitor (with the sound off, of course), and give yourself a break. You aren’t torturing your child. You’re helping them. And that “crying it out” time will get shorter and shorter each night if you can stick to your guns and stay OUT OF THEIR ROOM. That’s the key! 

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Do you use a pacifier?  

Sure do! This was one of those things I swore I wouldn’t do because I didn’t want to have to wean him off it. I now look back and think, “Oh, pre-mom version of Mary Catherine. Bless your simple little heart. You were so dumb.”  

We love a paci and started him at about 2 weeks. He likes falling asleep with it, but eventually falls into a deep enough sleep that he spits it out in his sleep and doesn’t care. 

As far as weaning him from it, I haven’t decided when that’s happening. That’s for another blog post. 

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What does his crib environment look like?  

Crib sheet, no bumper, no toys, no mobile. I am now realizing the importance of the “no stimulus” crib environment as I have a very active six-month-old who now performs an acrobatic act when he’s in his crib. If he had toys or a mobile in there? Forget it. He’d be absolutely lit every naptime. 

The point of a no-stimulus crib environment is pretty easy to guess - no stimulus = nothing to distract/prevent your baby from falling asleep. 

When did you start putting Mac on a schedule?  

We started early at 2 weeks old. The first two weeks of his life, we decided that we were just going to keep our heads above water - sleeping when he slept (although I have never been very good at that), and me feeding him on demand. For those 2 weeks, he slept in a Rock-n-Play at our bedside.  

At 2 weeks, we started putting him on a schedule. This was not different at all from what he was already doing (which is why sleep training is so effective - babies are already doing a lot of these things on their own!); all the schedule did was tighten up the times a bit. Mac was swaddled for every nap time and unswaddled for every feeding.  

At 3 weeks, we moved Mac upstairs to his nursery and he’s spent every night since in his crib (apart from nights we’ve been out of town). At that point, I was still recovering from a C-section (and our nursery is upstairs, master downstairs), so I had him napping downstairs in the Rock-n-Play. But we still followed the rules - he was swaddled, had white noise turned on, and low lighting for every nap. That routine is so important so that babies start to associate white noise, swaddling, and quiet time with napping.

So you’re saying he’s in his crib for every nap , every day?? Do you have a life, lady?! 

No way! When we’re home, he naps in his crib to solidify those bedtime routines. But sometimes we’re not at home and we have to improvise. A car seat nap, a nap on a neighbor’s bed, etc. - make it work for you! What we try to keep consistent is the white noise, the sleep suit (more on that below), and the low lighting. It doesn’t always work, but more often than not, it does. Make every time your baby goes down as similar to his/her bedtime surroundings as you can. 

What about traveling?  

Yeah, traveling is a curveball. It’s always hard to keep a consistent environment when you’re, you know, in a different environment. :) I’ve found that the key is to get as close as possible (we actually travel with our DOHM white noise machine), then to get back on track immediately when you get home. I mean, c’est la vie, y’all. You can’t control everything.  We use a Dock-a-Tot to help make him feel nice and cozy in any Pack and Play we might use, in addition to the white noise machine that goes with us everywhere. 

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 Did you swaddle/what swaddle did you use?  

We DEFINITELY swaddled and actually swear by it. There’s tons of research that shows newborns are comforted by a super-tight, snuggly swaddle that mimics the environment of the womb. Even if a baby fusses and cries for 30 seconds-1 minute after being swaddled, chances are, they’re going to calm down and absolutely love it.  

Although MOC advocates for large flannel cloth swaddles, we went with the Halo Velcro Sleepsacks. These are the kinds with the Velcro “wings” on either side, allowing you to get that awesome, snuggly swaddle in seconds flat. It also zips from bottom-to-top, which means that you can change a diaper without unswaddling! Game changer!! 

Somewhere around 14/15 weeks, Mac started jail-breaking out of his swaddle on a consistent basis. We tried the Miracle Blanket Swaddle, which has an extra layer inside to ensure baby’s arms stay down, but he was even able to bust out of that. We’d heard great things about Merlin’s Magic Sleep Suit, so we ordered it, and absolutely love it. He’s been in that ever since, and once he outgrows it (we ordered it a little too big on purpose), we probably won’t replace it. 

 Okay, you’ve sold me. But my baby is 3 months old now. Is it too late?  

I don’t know the science behind when babies develop habits, but my guess is, no way. Never too late. And you can do it!!  

All this is, really, is giving yourself and your baby predictable days. Wherever you are, start there. Do a little research to determine the best way to comfortably help your baby physically sleep (ie, if he/she is 5 months old, it’s probably better not to swaddle and to start with the Merlin’s Magic Sleep Suit) and see what makes the most sense for you and your family. A well-rested baby is more likely to sleep through the night. As long as your baby is gaining weight, healthy, and thriving, sleep training can be such a helpful tool in making sure you retain your sanity and get your OWN sleep back, which will help you be an even better parent.  

Go forth and catch those z’s!  

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Queer Eye and the NFL

The NFL released a statement yesterday detailing a new set of guidelines as a response to the significant number of players who’ve chosen to kneel with the national anthem is played before games. Their response to the protests is, in a nutshell, to make a new rule: instead of mandating that players be on the field for the anthem, they’re amending the rule so that if you’re on the field, you must be standing, lest your team face fines. You also have the option to stay in the locker room.

Twitter has been absolutely lit up about this in the last 12 hours or so, and I, as a breastfeeding mom, pretty much live on Twitter and Instagram. I have some personal opinions about the NFL’s statement on this subject (that, on one hand, they’re a business and reserve the right to handle their employees in whatever way they see fit - especially when they’ve experienced a massive ratings drop in response to the protests; on the other hand, this is a group of majority White men essentially quarantining a group of majority Black men who are exercising their right to peacefully protest about a cause that’s super important, and I feel some type of way about that. As in, not good.). 

Today, though, I’m more curious about people’s opinions of the protest itself. As I said, I've seen a lot of opinions on Twitter, and I wanted to flesh some of them out here in an effort to both share and learn.   

 

Opinion #1: You make millions of dollars a year. Get off your knees and go play football. This shouldn’t have even been an issue in the first place.  

Okay. Distilling that down to what the heart of the complaint is about, what I hear these folks saying is that NFL players are among the highest paid people in the country, and they need to cut the crap and do their jobs. Leave politics to the politicians. 

I hear what you’re saying, and I have this to offer in response:  

Most people who are paid at that level have some degree of notoriety, status, or influence. As of 2016, 70% of the NFL was made up of Black men. These guys are choosing to use the influence and power that they have on a national stage to stand up (or in this case, kneel down) for a cause they believe in. I’d say this is important and noteworthy for two reasons: 

  1. Because, as a person who taught low-income and majority Black students, one of the things I heard constantly is “I want to be a professional athlete when I grow up.” The eyes of people who look like these guys are on them. And Black NFL players are talking to them (in addition to all of us) about the nature of what it means to be Black in this country. For a child of color, seeing people who look like you, who are taking action about a cause that directly affects you? That’s pretty powerful. 
  2. The players who are kneeling, whatever their race, know the stakes. Colin Kaepernick is no longer playing football because of the choices he made about how he wanted to express himself. He sacrificed an NFL paycheck and exactly the status we’re talking about because of how strongly he believed this message needed to be communicated, and so are all of these other players who are following suit. That should tell us something about how much it means to them. 

 

Opinion #2: These guys are unpatriotic and disrespectful. There are people who died to make this country what it is - who are still dying - and they have no regard for that sacrifice.  

So, yeah. If you’re a person who has lost a loved one in combat, are a veteran yourself, or are the family member of a veteran, I completely get how this is especially touchy for you. 

I would argue that what these players are doing is trying not to be disrespectful. “But how is kneeling not disrespectful?”  

The protestors could be doing any number of things to make their opinions heard. They could be leaving the field during the anthem. They could turn their backs on the flag. THOSE things, in my opinion, would be extremely disrespectful and over the line. But instead, these players are staying on the field, respecting the song, the flag, and silently kneeling to communicate that there are people who look like them dying at the hands of police officers, who are sworn to protect them.  

If you’re offended by the gesture because of service to this country, whether it’s yours or that of someone you love, I understand where you’re coming from. Living in a country where our rights and freedoms are so expansive is an enormous privilege, and hundreds of thousands of people have given their lives in that effort. I think what these guys would ask is that you try and see where they’re coming from: a peaceful, respectful attempt at saying, “Something is wrong here and not enough is being done about it. Please pay attention.” In fact, many players even put their hands over their hearts while kneeling. This isn’t about disrespecting the flag or our veterans. Ultimately, the Black protestors don’t feel like the country they live in protects them or values their lives at the same level it protects and values the lives of White people. (More on that in a second.)

I see their kneeling as a sign of respect and reverence, and almost (if you can think about it this way) as a way to “take a knee” for their own brothers and sisters who have sacrificed their lives at the hands of the police.  In football, when someone is injured, players on both teams traditionally drop to one knee. The way I see it, this is like that - except on a much larger, more serious scale.

 

Opinion #3: This isn’t the time or place.  

I think the protesters would argue that this is exactly the time and place. The eyes of the world are upon them, and whether people are tuning in or (as is more commonly the case) turning off their TV’s in response, they’ve created a national conversation. 

One could certainly argue that the problem may be that there isn’t enough follow up TO that conversation. So, if you’re a protesting player, you now have a bunch of people aware of the protest against racism and police brutality, but then operating without sets of facts or data in order to form their opinions about what it is you’re doing. The idea that people are going to go out of their way to educate themselves is pretty naive, but (in my opinion) the protest is still important because it gets conversation moving. 

 

Opinion #4:  There isn’t anything to protest. What are these guys even talking about? Stop whining. 

So this is uncomfortable to talk about for a lot people because issues of race bring up a lot for all of us. But this particular opinion, I’m afraid, is just incorrect. And this isn’t a bleeding-heart moment (in fact, if you’re reading this blog and have been for some time, I hope you know that I try pretty hard to bring you moderate and fair conversation); this is a “brought to you by data” moment. 

According to this (very interesting) article written by Vox.com last year, racial minorities make up 37.4% of the US population, but constitute 62.7% of unarmed police killings. 

62.7%. Well over half of the unarmed people police officers kill every year. 

Another compelling table:

  C/o Vox.com   

C/o Vox.com  

So knowing this information, if you’re a Black NFL player, you have two options: continue to go about business as usual, or do something about it. The “something about it” is up for debate here - whether it’s appropriate, respectful, and productive (I personally believe it is all three, but I understand there are differing opinions). What is NOT up for debate is the fact that in America, Black people are disproportionately incarcerated and killed by police. If you’re Black in America, you probably feel like the justice system has failed you. You are probably suspicious of police officers because you or someone you know has been profiled, pulled over, or arrested, sometimes without just cause. 

 (If you’re a White person reading through that and you have feelings of defensiveness, I understand that and think it would be helpful for you to read both the Vox.com article linked above and - if you like this blog and my writing - this piece I wrote two years ago about the Alton Sterling murder.)

 

This next bit is not entirely relevant but is relevant enough, so...I’m including it.  

I’d like to bring you a moment of pop culture crossover from the delightful world of this season’s Queer Eye (which, if you haven’t watched and you read this blog, chances are you will  L O V E). If you’re not familiar with Queer Eye, first of all, WHY HAVEN’T YOU BEEN WATCHING IT?!, and secondly, you can read more about it here: 

There’s a moment in Episode 3, called “Dega Don’t,” wherein the only Black “Queer Eye,” Karamo Brown, is behind the wheel, driving himself and the other four cast members to the home of that episode’s straight subject. Early in the episode, police lights flash behind them, and Karamo is pulled over. His demeanor notably shifts from happy-go-lucky to tense and anxious. You can see his walls flying up. He’s asked to step out of the car, and the mood is icy. It turns out that this is a stunt the show put on because the straight guy being made over (Cory) is a police officer, and the cop pulling the Fab 5 over is the friend who nominated Cory for the show in the first place. Everyone is relieved, and the show continues.

Later in the episode, Karamo reveals to the Cory (who has Trump paraphernalia littering his basement, so the clash of beliefs is apparent from the beginning) that he was extremely nervous about interacting with the police officer who pulled him over. He said when he was asked to step out of the car, he was afraid “...this was the incident where I was going to get dragged out of the car.” They have an absolutely inspiring conversation about Black steretotypes of police officers, and police stereotypes of Black men. It is illuminating and wonderful and you should go watch it. They both leave feeling like they understand each other more and the moment moved me to tears (and you can shut up about the crying because it’s beautiful and precious and just go watch it and you’ll see). 

Cory and Karamo are still in touch today, despite their differing opinions. You can read more about their relationship here, in an article titled, “The Realest Conversation Abot Police Brutality Happened on a Makeover Show.”  

The reason I included this is because there is a LOT for us all to learn from one another, if we have ears to hear it. There is no room for the “all cops are racist” mentality, because that is an insane opinion to have. There is also no room for the “Black men should automatically raise suspicion” mentality, because THAT is an insane opinion to have. But opinions like these are born out of group think, lack of information, and lack of communication. In the same way, I don’t think there’s room for, “These guys are ‘sons of bitches’ and deserve to get fired,” or worse, “should not be in the country,” an opinion held by a leader whose words are often flippant, careless, and damaging (to put it very gently). There’s always more to the story, and it’s our responsibility as thinking, loving people to look more deeply into an issue - especially when, on its face, we have a problem with it. 

I’ve seen a lot of my White friends expressing the opinions above. Whether you agree with the style of protest or not, this is a great opportunity for us to engage with and learn more about an issue that is obviously affecting a community to the point that the rich and famous among that demographic are willing to trade their money and power, and likely give up on a dream they’ve had since childhood, simply to shed light on this issue. 

What are your thoughts? What have you read about this that has convicted or inspired you?  

Let’s learn a little something from Cory and the Queer Eye guys and talk to each other.