I have been on a journey through this “sitting/standing through the Star Spangled Banner” thing; but please don’t quit on me until I get near the end of my message, k?
I have been thinking about the NFL protests that happened over the weekend, and my first take of it all when Colin Kaepernick did it was: He’s doing this wrong.
My understanding was that he objected to the national anthem because of some obscure verse that no one sings or teaches young impressionable students about. I never heard/read that he was protesting the inequalities of every black person in the US – though many others have said they did. So he came off very spoiled and confused, to me.
When some of the other players began to do it, I read that they were now attaching the inequities of persons of color in the US; but I felt that they are confusing everyone with what they are doing, and that they were doing it wrong. The protest should clearly be set where the inequities lie, I figured, and I said so on Facebook.
Many others got angry and raised strident voices against desecration of the flag’s meaning and extended the protest against the military that dies under the flag they were protesting (it’s not just about the song anymore, somehow). I saw that as shallow and angry thinking that just wanted a direction to spew. I was not going to join it or have anyone thinking I endorsed it.
There were others who said that they were protesting the President’s recent behavior and remarks. O puh-leeeze (rolls eyes). Really?!? I just can’t take that very seriously.
I joined the camp that stood with each foot in one of two places on Monday: I felt it was good that they were maintaining dignity with a peaceful protest that didn’t destroy property or injure anyone. I applauded their right to speak their minds in this manner. It wasn’t even stopping the event that they were there to participate in – a sporting event. However, I still felt they were doing it wrong as long as they were not protesting something that was clearly part of the inequities of non-white living in the US. It was just too easy for people with truly good intentions to only see an argument about the anthem and the flag, and it wasn’t those nice person’s fault, but the bad planning of the protesters. I also saw millionaires kicking sand in the faces of those who make their lives possible, and that’s just bratty.
I heard sincere and honest people pointing out that the NFL leadership only responded with solidarity this weekend because they felt their method of making money was being threatened. Perhaps that’s true, but does it invalidate the message itself that they players were bringing forward? I didn’t think so. I have people I care deeply about who have more melanin in their skin than our current president does, and they aren’t getting the same benefits as almost all white citizens of the US enjoy. It’s WAY better than it used to be, but it’s still a far cry from where we need it to be if this is ever going to be The Land of the Free.
See, I’m white; and I have always wanted to be free and casual with every person I met, no matter what their color or culture. As long as we’re all people with good intentions, I think we can find ways to get past our cultural differences, and respect the places that have boundaries we’re not used to seeing. Some will suggest that it is my white privilege and sense of entitlement that brought me to that world view, and I won’t argue that it isn’t true. Even so, it seems right to me that we all need this view – and the safety to live it out – in order for world peace to live and thrive.
However, that kind of thing was impossible in the US that I grew up in during the late 50’s and early 60’s. So I cheered when Dr. King began to show us all how to do the right thing, even if it wasn’t comfortable or acceptable to those with good intentions. But he found a way to get their attention because of his concern for peaceful formats. He found a way to nudge people out of complacency and to insist that they stop ignoring the things they were uncomfortable with, even if they weren’t insulted by the mere existence of the Jim Crow laws and other forms of extant discrimination during those times.
Dr. King was murdered, but the cause for human rights marched on, and good legislation happened to help rid our US culture of a despicable heritage and un-American behavior. How could we claim that we were the home of the brave and free if we couldn’t ensure that every brave person was free? Or even the ones who couldn’t be brave, or strong – didn’t they deserve freedom mercy and kindness? Couldn’t these be the traits our country could be more known for?
The decades went on, and complacency began to set in. I saw it, and I didn’t like it even though I wasn’t experiencing the terror of my sons getting shot in the streets for being threatening just because of their ethnicity. I had friends who shared that fear, and I knew they weren’t the kind of people who would harbor fear unnecessarily. Every family of color had a story of a relative no older than a grandparent who had suffered a great injustice because someone hated their melanin levels. I wept with them, and knew that they had some reasons to resent my invulnerability to their experience.
When the protesters were asked if they hated the flag and those in the military who defend it, they have been very vocal in saying that the opposite is true. They love what our country “says” it is in the constitution. Since more persons of color serve in the military, and most (if not all) of the protesting players have relatives that have honorably served in the military and many who have some who are serving even now; there is no intention of putting the military in a bad light for any reason. So it would seem that someone has been pushing that agenda as a smokescreen. I nearly believed it, too.
In all of this time, I was willing to listen; and I worked hard to find and listen to the different voices of reason on both sides. I watched many video bytes, and noted what was being put forward to explain what was going on – from both sides, as long as it stayed with the facts, and didn’t just fall into abusive, insulting, rants filled with vitriolic taunts and just plain anger.
Because I was willing to listen, I’ve learned a few things I didn’t know about and I’ve changed my mind.
My lifetime human hero has always been Dr MLKing. I know his character may not withstand scrutiny; but his mission always did for me. He did it right, and left a legacy that taught all of us what we should do when we have to object to something that others won’t see, or won’t address to resolve with the vigor it deserves.
I’m finally convinced that this is what these young men are doing, and I’m glad that I can finally see that, in spite of the confusion that I had to deal with. Is there a better way? I don’t know. Maybe I don’t think so, now.
It’s been clear for a great long time that the issues of inequity and undeserved and unprovoked danger needs visibility, and it needed National visibility. We need to sustain a dialog without fear or threat, but with concern and sincerity. We need to make it safe to be vulnerable as others tell their stories – like we try to do for those who have been sexually abused – let’s make it safer for those who are racially abused.
The message is getting a halting voice, and there’s still some confusion about whether it’s valid or worthy; but at least it’s happening in the right way. I honestly think that even Dr King would smile and approve of this new dialog that has begun, though he’d wish people with good intentions would understand it better.