How can a backup quarterback break the internet during a pre-season football game? That’s simple: refuse to stand for the national anthem. That’s exactly what 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick did a few days ago. His reason? To bring attention to the fact that America has not reached its ideal because minorities are oppressed in America. He went on to defend his actions by saying he will continue to sit as long as such oppression is occurring. As you can probably predict, our hyper-sensitive and politically divided culture has been kicking at the goads ever since. For the third day in a row Kaepernick is trending on Facebook and Twitter. No one has a shortage of opinions about him, his actions, or his cause.
Is He Right?
Are minorities being oppressed in America? Do blacks have it harder than whites? Does Colin have a point? It depends on who you ask. I will say this, my friends who either have mixed race children or who have adopted minority children get treated differently than I do. They get the awkward stares and occasional rude comments. I will never have to worry about my white daughter being pulled over in a nice neighborhood for driving a nice car that she owns. I do know she has been stopped by police in the park for walking around with her mixed-race boyfriend. Does this equal oppression though? You may point out to me all the police shootings in recent months. I could counter that with more whites are shot by police than blacks, and that the vast majority (not all) of those shootings were considered justifiable. Is there systemic racism in our country? I believe there is, just like there is systemic sexism in our country. There are also many problems that are epidemic among black communities that aren’t as prolific among whites. A black child is more likely to be aborted in America than born. Let that sink in for a moment. Fatherless homes are another problem that too many black families have to deal with on a daily basis. Some blame poverty and a system that keeps blacks poor, but that would be evidence of even more systemic racism in our country. The bottom line is, Colin may have a point. I will even go so far as to say that he has every right under the first amendment to sit down during the national anthem. The same rights that protect my freedom to preach the gospel every Sunday protect his decision to sit. So why do I think he’s wrong?
The Wrong Way to Say It
Tact is an art form that is quickly disappearing in our culture. I had one elder define tact as “the ability to tell someone they are going to hell and have them thank you for saying it.” While Colin has a point to make, and he is well within his rights to do what he did, I think he’s making a mistake. I truly believe that his actions fall under the category of “just because you have the right to do something doesn’t make it right to do it.” Here are some reasons why.
- It promotes division, not unity. As soon as he refused to stand the lines in the sand were drawn. In a country torn apart by rhetoric and vitriolic speech, Kaepernick just threw fuel on the fire. There are some who will disagree with his actions no matter the reason he gives. And those emotions run deep, especially in families who have seen the flag-draped caskets of their loved ones. Colin may have gotten their attention, but he also turned them off to whatever message he had. On the other side of that coin are those who will defend his action because they feel the same way. But this is not going to bring anybody to the table. If anything it keeps them at arm-length away from a discussion that needs to take place.
- The action overshadows the cause. As I’ve already stated, there are some strong emotions on both sides of this issue. Again, all some are going to see is someone who is, in their view, disrespecting their flag and their country. Given how many veterans of all colors served under that flag, his reasoning is going to be lost because his actions have spoken volumes.
- Whether he intended it or not, he offended a great many people. America has always been a hyper-patriotic country. We love Fourth of July, Fireworks, and John Philips-Sousa. We just finished the Olympics where we saw athletes of all colors brought to tears by the playing of the Star-Spangled banner. We honor our veterans every fall and our fallen soldiers every spring. We love our country and have a hard time understanding when someone refuses to stand beside us, in a show of unity, and honors her with us.
- It ignores the progress we have made. America is a work in progress. 100 years ago there were the unjust Jim Crow laws. 200 years ago there was the dehumanizing practice of slavery. In the grand scope of history we are a young nation. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears have gone into abolishing slavery, the Civil Rights movement, and trying to live up to that phrase “all men are created equal.” Do we fall short sometimes? Unfortunately, yes. But it’s the ideal that we strive for, even in the face of persecution. Kaepernick’s actions fail to acknowledge this progress and this ideal.
- It sends a mixed signal. On the one hand Kaepernick says that America is supposed to be this place of equal opportunity. On the other he says we are failing to live up to that ideal. So which country is he protesting, the one that lifts up that ideal or the one that isn’t quite reaching it? I’ve got news for you, Colin, they are the same country. In addition, we’re never going to fully live up to the dream. Why? Because people are broken and imperfect, and this country is made up of millions of those imperfect people. There will always be racists. There will always be those who abuse power. The best we can do is strive for that ideal. If you won’t stand until utopia comes, then get used to sitting. And get used to people exercising their right to voice their disagreement with you.
Dave, Thanks for writing on difficult issues. I’ll chime in my two cents. I’ve been reading a lot on slavery lately – firsthand accounts and it has changed the way that I view the African American community in many respects. Our ancestors literally raped, murdered and tortured them as a people for more than 250 years. They sold mothers away from their children and husbands away from their wives. And while we, as 21st century white Americans, aren’t responsible for the actions of our ancestors, we have certainly benefitted from their actions while the black community has suffered because generations of injustice.
Think of how damaging it would be for generations of your family to be punished for learning to read or for generations of a family to grow up being disconnected from their parents.
In fact, after slavery ended, it was still quite a few years before African Americans were given the right to vote. And all this is made worse by the fact that those who oppressed them, in many instances, claimed to be followers of Christ. They were whipped and beaten by the same masters who read the Bible to them in some cases. The “Christian” community was responsible for their oppression. That being the case, I have absolutely no problem with an African American struggling to honor this country. In fact, I have a hard time honoring our forefathers after reading how they oppressed a people simply because of the color of their skin and because of the advantage that was to be gained. This nation was built on the backs of the labor of slaves. I believe it’s time for us to stop complaining when situations like the one you reference occur and simply admit that a wrong was done and seek reconciliation. We will never change what we refuse to acknowledge.
Jason, as always your comments are welcome and appreciated here. I don’t want to in any way minimize what has happened to African Americans throughout history. There were atrocious and unthinkable acts done to them. And I have no problem admitting that what was done by Americans to slaves was absolutely wrong and it would be just as egregious for me to say something to the effect of “forget it and move on.” That’s not what my intention was in this article. My concern is primarily, was this the best way for him to make a point when there are people of all colors who honor and respect our country? I too have mixed emotions about our country. As someone with Irish ancestry, in some ways I understand (read how the English treated the Irish. “The Great Shame” is an excellent work on this topic). I’m not saying it’s the equivalent or even the same degree, but multiple people groups have been oppressed throughout history (perhaps none more so than Christ’s Church). I tried to acknowledge the very real concerns he has, but balance it with a critique of how he’s handling it. I honestly feel his actions are more polarizing than helpful. I can understand him and still disagree with him. Again, I love your heart for all people, and thanks for being one of the “irons” that helps keep me sharp!
I understand your intention and don’t think your assessment is necessarily wrong. I just think we also add fuel to the fire when we act like hundreds of years of history (going back to the first slaves brought to this continent in 1608 I believe) has no impact on how African Americans should view this country. I’m not suggesting that’s what you’re saying. I just see that in other’s comments and it makes me cringe. I just think the white community needs to put ourselves in their shoes much more than we do. Peace to you, bro!