Culture Feature

Drew Brees Exemplifies How NOT to Be a White Ally

The quarterback said "I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country." And then he tried to apologize. And only made it worse.

Drew Brees, a man who makes literally millions of dollars for throwing a ball, has come under fire for insensitive comments he made about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality.

"I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," Brees said in the interview with Yahoo Finance. He clarified that this was in part because he envisioned his grandfathers, who fought in World War II, during the National Anthem. He continued, saying, "And is everything right with our country right now? No. It's not. We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together. We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution."

This isn't the first time Brees made it clear that he cares more for the idea of a make-believe unified America than he does for actual human lives. In 2016, he criticized Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the anthem, saying it was "disrespectful to the American flag" and "an oxymoron" because the flag gave critics the right to speak out in the first place.

Colin Kaepernick Kneeling Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest of racist police brutality

Of course, the flag's alleged ideals have been proven to only be applicable to wealthy, white men—men like Brees. Sure, his grandfathers did a noble thing when they fought under the US flag during WWII, and no one, including Kaepernick, has ever said that sacrifice isn't worth respecting. Thanks to the sacrifices of many people (including the enslaved Black backs upon which this country was built, including the scores of routinely abused Black soldiers who fought for American lives), America has offered opportunity and peace for many, many people. In particular, Ole' Glory has been very kind to men like Brees: rich, white men who still control the majority of the power and the wealth in the United States.

But what about the rest of us, Drew? What about George Floyd whose neck was crushed by a police officer who kneeled on him so casually that he didn't even take his hand out of his pocket? What about Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot for the crime of being Black and going for a jog? What about Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was murdered by police in her home in the middle of the night for a crime that had nothing to do with her? What about Tony McDade, Drew–have you heard his name? Have you heard about the 38-year-old Black trans man who was gunned down in Florida last week? Do you understand why these people's family's may harbor just a bit of disrespect for your precious flag?

Is it possible for you to realize, Drew, that your wish for "unity" is not a wish for progress, but a wish to maintain the status quo? When you call for unity under the American flag, you're talking about your flag, the flag that represents a long, sordid history of racial oppression and violence. There is no unity where there is no justice. When you say that "we are all in this together," what you're saying is that we all have roles to play in the version of society that has served you so well. For your part, you'll be a rich, white man, and for Black people's part, they'll continue to be victims of state-sanctioned murders– but hopefully more quietly, hopefully in a manner that doesn't make you uncomfortable?

When you say, "We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution," what you mean to say is that POC and their allies are at fault. Sure, you probably agree that Derek Chauvin took it a bit too far, and you probably feel a little self-conscious that he's brought all this "Black rights" stuff up again. But when you say "all," you place blame on the victims who are dying under a broken system. And what, exactly, do you expect POC to do differently, Drew? Ahmaud Arbery was just out jogging, and still he died. George Floyd was just trying to pay a cashier, and still he died. POC and their allies try to peacefully protest by marching in the streets or taking a knee at a football game, and still white people condemn and criticize. Still the police shoot.

After much criticism, Brees did attempt an apology on Instagram, where he posted a hilariously corny stock photo of a Black and white hand clasped together. His caption, though possibly well-intentioned, made it even clearer that his understanding of the movement for Black lives is thoroughly lacking.

Highlights of the "apology" include his immediate attempt to exonerate himself from culpability, claiming that his words were misconstrued, saying of his previous statement: "Those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character." Unfortunately, Drew, white people like you are the "enemy," as you put it, because by default you are at the very least part of the problem. No one is accusing you of being an overt racist, Drew; no one thinks you actively and consciously detest Black people. But your lack of empathy, your apathy, and your unwillingness to unlearn your own biases are precisely what has persisted in the hearts and minds of well-meaning white Americans for centuries.

Next, you say, "I recognize that I am part of the solution and can be a leader for the Black community in this movement." No, Drew. Just no. Black people don't need white people's savior complexes to interfere in their organizing; what they need is for us to shut up and listen. What they need is for us to get our knees off of their necks.

Finally, you say, "I have ALWAYS been an ally, never an enemy." This, Drew, is suspiciously similar to saying, "But I'm one of the good whites!" The fact of the matter is that feeling the need to prove your allyship is not about helping a movement; it's about feeding your own ego. Not only that, but your emphasis on "ALWAYS" does a pretty good job of making it clear that you don't think you have a racist bone in your body and that you have taken great offense at any accusations to the contrary. I have some news for you, Drew: Every white person is racist. Sure, the levels vary, and while you may not be actively and consciously discriminating against POC, you have been brought up in a racist system, and your implicit biases are as strong as any other white person's. Your job now is to unlearn those biases and confront those subtle prejudices in yourself and in other white people. Maybe the first step in doing so is just shutting your f*cking mouth about kneeling at football games. Maybe you should even consider taking a knee yourself.

For other non-BIPOC trying to be better allies, check out one of these 68+ anti-racism resources.

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On Crushing, Julia Jacklin Leaves Her Lover for Herself

Crushing pays special attention to the experience of being a woman, exploring the ways that the female body can feel like a cage and means of escape.

Writing her sophomore album Crushing made Julia Jacklin realize "how not very special" she is. "Everyone has experienced this in some way or another," she told NPR, "which is really nice to feel." In some ways, Crushing (released yesterday) is a standard breakup album, with each of its eleven tracks traversing the intimacies of a disintegrating relationship.

But one of the Sydney-born musician's most singular talents is her ability to make the quotidian feel raw and devastating. She has a knack for condensing relatively unremarkable moments into searing metaphors that do justice to the intensity of the everyday. These are songs about houses, ordinary people, and unsaid words; they take place in a world that is very real, but that also—in some moments—seems to hang just outside of time.

Image via

Crushing is about a breakup, but it's just as much about the simultaneously private and universal experience that is existing in a body. Jacklin's songs function as microscopes, with the body as a focal point. She pays special attention to the experience of being a woman, exploring the ways that the female body can feel like a cage and means of escape at the same time.

The first track, "Body ," opens with a pulsing bassline and lullaby-soft vocals. Jacklin has an unassuming voice that conjures images like warm honey or bonfire smoke, but this softness is made intense through juxtaposition against dark, moody instrumentation and searing lyrics. The song tells the story of a breakup that takes place on an airport tarmac after getting kicked out of the plane because "you could not get through a domestic flight without lighting up in the bathroom." But this isn't a one-time thing; this is a breaking point. "I'm not a good woman when you're around," she says, and it's over.

Julia Jacklin - Body (Official Music Video)

The rest of the album swirls around the fallout from this decision, taking a microscopic lens to the internal fears that define a major life change, sticking to the inner realms of flesh and mind. Rooms and bars and restaurants flicker in and out, but always, there's the body, a consciousness of its weight, its sins or ecstasies, the imprint of where it's been.

On the tarmac, as she's walking away, she remembers an incriminating photo. "Do you still have that photograph? Would you use it to hurt me?" she asks. "Guess it's just my life. And it's just my body."

In explaining the song to Consequence of Sound, she said, "I was like, I can't try and explain to people anymore what it feels like to sometimes be a woman, and the things that are very specific to our experience in the world. I was just a bit exhausted by it." That final line is ambiguous, both defeated and quietly strong.

From there, "Head Alone" and "Pressure to Party" are both vitriolic, both grainy guitar-driven bops that follow a woman testing her voice after realizing that she's completely lost her autonomy in her relationship. "I don't wanna be touched all the time," she says in the first track, a rallying cry for the validness of boundaries. The next track is a screw-you to everyone pressuring her to leave her bedroom and "put herself out there" again. She's not ready for that, as shown by the next track, which finds her firmly in the trenches. "Don't Know How to Keep Loving You" is an expansive, moody ballad, the kind meant for swaying in an empty house, half-drunk bottle of wine in hand. It's a ghostly, sweeping memorial that builds up to a roaring storm, led by Jacklin's wailing guitar, and it has an element of West Coast rock, strangely reminiscent of "It's Good to Be King" by Tom Petty. The song is reminiscent of a lot of things. At first listen, Jacklin's music can seem unremarkable, or at least unassuming. Her compositions aren't showy or elaborate, nor is her production exquisitely glossy or experimental.

Julia Jacklin - Head Alone (Official Video)

Julia Jacklin - Pressure To Party (Official Video)

But her songs have an uncanny ability to grab on, to linger, to get under the skin. The tracks are imbued with a kind of magic; in a way, they're like keys, crafted to unlock secret rooms of human emotion. This feeling is partly thanks to the songs lyrical complexity. "Don't know how to keep loving you, now that I know you so well," she sings—there's no idealization of the self or the lover here, no full reclamation of some feminist ideal; there's only the shaky ground of trying to find oneself, the crescendos and wrong turns, the stumbling, faltering. The songs' beauty is also thanks to the seamlessness of their melodic structures, which maintain a vaguely beachy, coastal smoothness in spite of their heart-wrenching thematic content.

Julia Jacklin - Don't Know How to Keep Loving You - 1/24/2019 - Paste Studios - New York, NY

The next track, "When the Family Flies In," is the most dismal and grey track on the album, it feels like lying beside a screen door on a rainy day, staring at a fan spin round and round. It sounds sort of like something you've heard before.

In short, it sounds old, and this old-timey, domestic nostalgia finds its way into "Convention," a finger-picked guitar ballad, which turns out to be the last nod to wallowing. At last, "Good Guy" offers a ladder out of the hole, a look to the future. It tells a story of a tentative re-entry into love, albeit via a meaningless fling. "Tell me I'm the love of your life, at least for one night. Even if you don't feel it," she says, inverting the traditional narrative in which the woman falls headfirst for the man's false promises. But Jacklin has never played innocent or naïve. Her debut album, Don't Let the Kids Win, sounded like it was written by someone who had already been old—full of blunt world-weary wisdom, it worked like Crushing in that every song spoke about ordinary experiences in ways that felt fresh and alive.

Julia Jacklin - Don't Let The Kids Win (Official Video)

The last third of the album veers back into indie rock territory, starting with "You Were Right," a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment that her former flame's favorite restaurant was actually good. It's you're-an-asshole combined with a fine-you-were-right-about-some-things surrender flag.

The next track, "Turn Me Down," begins with a chilled-out groove but offers the album's most drastic climax, with Jacklin almost screaming the song title at its peak. In the narrative structure of the song, the phrase "Turn Me Down" might mean please leave me, we aren't good for each other but I don't want to be the one to say it. But hearing Jacklin scream those lines feels like a gesture of irony that belies a desire to run free, to shred and scream—fighting against the fear of being too much that confines so many people, especially female musicians (so often offered weird sexual bargains, if the recent Ryan Adams expose shows us anything), to silence.

The final track is further proof that Jacklin is a master of the paradox. "Comfort" is both hopeful and frail. Her voice is smooth and frayed at the edges; the hiss of a home recording device floods the whole track with static. The video reflects this balance of innocence and experience, taking place at an empty playground that looks like it's about to be drenched by a rainstorm. It follows Jacklin as she wanders around in pale pink, promising herself that someday she'll be able to sleep through the night and that the lover she left—that lover who caused so much pain, but whom she ultimately still cares for—is going to be fine.

Julia Jacklin - Comfort (Official Video)

"Comfort" leaves behind the righteous, simmering fury that defined the rest of the album. Now that she's gotten her body back—having performed the difficult work of retrieving her selfhood from the throes of a destructive relationship, and having reclaimed her body and mind from a world that constantly polices women's bodies and pits them against each other—she's able to empathize, to think beyond herself, and able to begin to love again.

Image via BBC

Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York. Follow her on Twitter at @edenarielmusic.

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