Colin Kaepernick’s Protest
On Friday, Colin Kaepernick ignited a firestorm by choosing to sit through the playing of the national anthem. Since then the internet has been filled with memes and rants–some supporting him and many blasting him for his actions.
The response to Colin’s actions strike me as a perfect example of our struggle to understand each other and make progress in civil dialogue around issues that matter. I may be looking in the wrong places, but I have seen very few responses that seem aimed at actual conversation. People on both sides seem much more interested in puffing their chests and shaming those who disagree with them. Any of us who respond in this way cannot be part of the solution in this case or any other–we will only throw gas on the flames. We need more people who view those with whom they disagree as people and are willing to treat them as such.
So I’m going to share a few thoughts on the situation, and I would truly love any sincere dialogue in response. These are few responses I’ve seen the last couple days.
He should do something that isn’t so disrespectful.
This is one where I’d love to hear from those who do see this as a deeply disrespectful action. It might be. Perhaps he could have chosen something else.
I see his action as obvious and noteworthy, but not disrespectful. He didn’t take some vulgar or inappropriate action during the anthem or toward the flag. He just didn’t participate. But this is an area where I’d appreciate hearing reasoned thinking from those who would disagree. I know my perspective is different than others on this point and would love to listen if you are one of those people.
I do believe effective protests have to be noticeable. What he did was not violent or vulgar. It was clear and attention-grabbing. I think those are characteristics of an effective protest. But there might have been another way he could have accomplished the same thing.
If he doesn’t like it here he can just move.
This is a response often given when criticism of any kind is levied at the United States as a country. And it’s true, he and others could move (from the sounds of it a large percentage of the country will be moving to Canada no matter who wins the election in November!). But let’s stop and consider what this sentiment is really expressing. It is saying, “you are not allowed to dislike anything about the United States.”
I think this same sentiment could be levied at anyone who expresses any kind of frustration with any aspect of life in our country. If you don’t like President Obama, if you think the U.S. is too materialistic, if you are frustrated at the response to the global refugee crisis, if…
But this approach has some obvious errors. Number one, there is no perfect place in the world. If we encourage people (including ourselves) to move every time we dislike something, we’ll all be nomads. Second, there is a profound difference between disliking (or even hating) aspects of how things are in the United States and hating the United States. You can be profoundly grateful to live here while having a strong desire for aspects of our country to change. Related to this, isn’t it better to stay and work for the good of a place than to run away from it? There are times to leave, but in neighborhoods, jobs, schools, and civic organizations we laud the hard work of improving things over running away from difficulty.
I obviously don’t know Colin Kaepernick, but perhaps he loves this country so much he wants it to change. I think it would be possible for someone to protest for this reason in this way whether he did or not.
“I wish I was as oppressed as he is.”
This is an actual comment I saw on Facebook. The sentiment behind it is that he is too rich and famous to protest anything. This country has been good to him so he has no right to stand against aspects of life in this country.
This country has been good to him. I hope he’d acknowledge that. He is an example of the unbelievable opportunity many people have to flourish and prosper (an extreme example of this, but still…). In some way this lifts up something good about our country.
But why would this remove his ability to protest? In fact, you might argue that he is exactly the kind of person who needs to do it. The rich, famous, and powerful receive a disproportionate amount of influence, for better or worse. If some guy from San Francisco sat through the anthem in the stands it wouldn’t be national news. It is exactly the status Kaepernick has that gives his protest power.
Apart from this specific protest, I think those in places of power have a responsibility to steward it for those without a voice. That can happen in government, in the boardroom, or on the field. You may disagree with why he was protesting or how he did it, but people like him are exactly the right ones to be doing it.
One More Thing
There are things going on in our country with race that need our attention. Our country has a deep history of racism and oppression. If you look at history, things like this are generational issues. They don’t just go away even as they change. If you’re like me you’re not sure what your part is in all of it. I think it at least begins with listening–knowing that my experiences are different than others and that the only way I can learn is by listening. We can debate this protest, but I also hope it doesn’t keep us from listening to those who are different than we are.