The author, a contributing columnist to Deadline Detroit, is a former reporter for The Detroit News, Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
By Darrell Dawsey
Michael Doss stood up for himself. Colin Kaepernick took a knee for others.
Now, both black men are in the news as they look to get back up after being run over by racism.
Doss, a Michigan Department of Corrections lieutenant who works at the Parnall Correctional Facility outside Jackson, filed a racial discrimination lawsuit last week in Wayne County Circuit Court against MDOC after he was allegedly demoted, ostracized and harassed for filing a complaint about a co-worker who called him a “nigger.”
According to the lawsuit, Doss was rising through the ranks at the prison when he learned that a co-worker, Capt. Frank Sawyer, urged the prison’s retiring deputy warden to stay on the job, because Sawyer feared Doss would be chosen to replace the warden. “I don’t want a nigger for a boss,” Sawyer allegedly said to deputy warden Lee McRoberts.
And what did McRoberts do? He told Sawyer, “You can’t say that.” And then he was done with it.
The deputy warden didn’t move to can his bigoted subordinate. He didn’t even try to report him (a failure that was itself a violation of MDOC policy). Instead, when Doss found out about the racist crack and told the deputy warden that he was going to file a formal complaint against Sawyer, who did McRoberts and others on staff turn against?
From then on, his life at work changed dramatically, Doss alleges. Since then, he has been demoted from captain to lieutenant, overlooked for promotions and "subjected to a culture of racism that has been ignored, cultivated, and/or perpetrated" by the department and its employees, "including co-workers, secretaries, supervisors, and other individuals in management."
"As soon as he rocked the boat ... he was retaliated against," said Jonathan Marko, a St. Clair Shores attorney representing Doss.
Meanwhile, according to Newsweek, Doss “also claimed that he's been called a ‘rat’ and ‘snitch,’ by his coworkers, and ‘McRoberts began treating him as an outcast, socially and professionally.’”
The message was as clear as it was simple: Racism towards a black man is perfectly fine. But your black ass had better not try to resist—because that’s the offense that merits punishment.
Shut up and throw
For three years, this has been the same message that the National Football League has been sending to Colin Kaepernick.
The former starting QB of the San Francisco 49ers, Kaepernick in 2016 ignited a nationwide controversy — and inspired an already-rolling nationwide movement — when he took a knee during the playing of the national anthem at games to protest racial oppression and rampant police brutality against black and brown people.
Whereas Doss was labeled a “snitch” and a “rat,” Kaepernick was cast as an “ingrate,” a “troublemaker” and – by the president himself – a “son of a bitch.” And after Kap left San Francisco as a free agent, he was effectively blackballed from the NFL as team after team passed on opportunities to sign him.
The NFL, which last year earned $15 billion off the mostly black men who willingly sacrifice their bodies and brains for the fame and often-fleeting fortune offered by the league’s mostly white ownership and fan base, didn’t give a damn about Eric Garner or Michael Brown or Tamir Rice or Philando Castile.
And neither did the League give a damn about a high-profile player who dared to protest these deaths and others, no matter how quietly he did it, no matter how successful he was on the field despite it.
Even after Kap filed a collusion grievance against the league, and agreed to a confidential settlement of his case, he was passed over. It didn’t matter that Kap had finished his last season with a 90.7 QB rating while throwing for more than 2,200 yards and 16 TDs against only four interceptions in 11 games. Or that he was only a few years removed from taking the 49ers to the Super Bowl and, a year later, the NFC title game.
What mattered was that Kap, moved by the string of high-profile black deaths at the hands of killer cops, had refused to suffer in silence.
Now, three years since his last snap, Kaepernick is trying to make his way back. He will work out this weekend in Atlanta for NFL scouts. But his path runs not through the legal system but the court of public opinion.
And already, some of the biggest mouths in that court are firing up in anticipation of his possible return. Stephen A. Smith, for example, began yelling into his megaphone almost right away, warning that Kaepernick could land a job after the workout—but only if he shut up and threw.
Kaepernick was never the problem with the NFL, a league with no black majority owners and one that has coddled crooks and clowns only slightly less than it has lied about the deleterious effects of its sport on players’ brains. Kaepernick merely reflected black people’s desires to move through our country without being murdered over toy guns and loose cigarettes. For Smith to act as if Kap was ever really the issue is as much bullshit deflection as the corrections officers who somehow managed to find fault with the idea of Lt. Doss complaining about slurs.
Likewise, Lt. Doss isn’t the problem with the corrections department, which has been the target of one racial discrimination lawsuit after another in part because it permits its majority white male officers to nurture a nasty, racist subculture where racial/ethnic intimidation is tolerated.
Black lives always matter
But here’s the thing: Going along with institutional racism to get along with racists doesn’t serve black people well either. Few things have proven to be more temporary for black Americans than white favor, especially when blacks decide to address the lived experiences that most white people can’t (or won’t) ever see.
Silence hasn’t saved black people from racism any more than a sheep’s wool has ever saved it from a wolf’s jaws.
If black lives matter, they matter irrespective of the assessment of the mainstream gaze. They matter even when people who should be able to stand on the side of right—be they a boisterous black sportswriter or a white supervisor whose job is to protect all of his subordinates—decide that it’s more lucrative, more popular or just plain easier to shut out pain and injustice.
No matter what, we will never emerge from the scourge of racism unscathed. But like the QB and the corrections officer, we can certainly face it down unbowed.