People across the nation are up in arms about San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s silent protest of the oppression of people of color in this country by refusing to stand for the national anthem. You’ve probably already heard much about it. If not, here’s a pretty good summation of the controversy.
This is clearly an emotional issue. Some of those who feel that the athlete is disrespecting the country of his birth are going so far as to burn his jersey in effigy. Others, including a lot of military veterans, are just as passionate about Kaepernick’s Constitutional right to make such a protest. Passions run high on both sides of the controversy.
The fact is, regardless of your feelings on the matter, Kaepernick has the right to protest in whatever way he sees fit. He has done no harm to anyone, threatened no one, committed no crime. He has the right to make his protest. Does this free him from the repercussions of the act? Of course not. But some, in their anger, have called on him to be censured in some manner due to his lack of respect, his dearth of patriotism, and have called him a traitor in response to his actions–these are extreme and wrong-headed reactions. If he doesn’t have the right to make his peaceful protest, his strong statement, then the America that the rest of us are standing for doesn’t exist. If he is coerced or made to stand, then all that patriotism on display is for something false and fleeting.
I have also seen people throw the man’s affluence and relative fame in his face as a reason for him not to protest. As if his success makes the problems for which he sits go away. In fact, it is his very prominence that makes his protest so effective. If he were an anonymous citizen, no one would notice or give his statement much credence. His position does not make his protest weaker, but stronger, because of the size of his audience. Further, despite his relative success, he sees the problems that we have in this country regarding race and wants to leverage that success to draw attention to it. That’s a good thing, a laudable thing, not something done out of ingratitude. To do otherwise would be to take the money and turn a blind eye to the truth, and he is refusing to do that.
The saddest part of this affair is that the very real problems for which Kaepernick is sitting, the source of the conversation that he is trying to start, are being overlooked in favor of the side issue of his patriotism. And I suspect that this is because we are much more comfortable talking about patriotism than we are talking about race in this country. It is far easier to have a debate about whether or not Kaepernick is right to sit or stand out of love of country than it is to discuss the continuing specter of white supremacy in modern America.
I have never been comfortable with the blind patriotism that proclaims that America has a manifest destiny to surpass all other nations, that we are “number one” simply because we are who we are. I think we have the potential to be greatest country on the face of the earth–but only if we look at ourselves and strive to do better, everyday, in every way. The fact is, we have problems–deep-rooted and divisive problems–that are tearing our country apart. We live in a time when our supposed leaders use those problems to divide us in order to achieve their own selfish goals. Now is the time for soul-searching. Now is not the time to turn a blind eye to the problems of race in this country, but to face them head on and look for solutions–or at least resolutions–that we can live with.