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This article examines how 32 mostly white university students understand the NFL players’ protests. We argue students processed the protests (and protesters) through a racialized lens of whiteness that led to two modes of interpreting the protests: the protests are unpatriotic and the protests are patriotic. These categories are primarily based on how students account for African-American NFL players’ resistance to white supremacy and their own whiteness. We propose these student’s responses demonstrate a denial and avoidance of race, which many understand as a personal experience with racism, even when discussing a racially charged protest movement. Further, competing discourses of patriotism animate their positions on the protests, but also limit their understandings of the protests and the operation of white supremacy.
Chaplin is with the Department of Sociology and Criminology, John Carroll University, Cleveland, OH. Montez de Oca is with Sociology Department, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, CO.