I don’t much like Colin Kaepernik. He reminds me of that whiny-voiced type of jock in high school who likes pranking people via pantsing or wedgies and then skipping away and giggling and tittering and cackling like a witch on Halloween. You know the one. He was never exactly mean, just… well, boorish would be the right word. I have no idea if he was ever actually like that, it’s just his voice evokes that image for me. But his on-the-field play was also something that I didn’t like. He was (and probably still is) frustratingly good. Frustrating, because he always seemed much more interested in looking good than in winning. He never looked like he wanted to lead a team, just wanted to look like he was trying to win the game single-handedly.
But when he started his Black Lives Matter protest by sitting during the national anthem, I thought, well… maybe he is ready to lead. Because nothing about that looked good, that was for sure, but he was sacrificing his public image to try to support a cause which meant more to him than football. And when he switched to kneeling instead of sitting just to make sure he was not disrespecting our service men and women, I was again impressed. Here was a guy who had gone from being snide and chirpy in every interview and commercial I had seen him in to being not just compassionate, but also considerate.
But even though I’ve revised my view of him a bit, I don’t agree with his form of protest. I don’t think it’s appropriate to protest the treatment of black people by police officers by kneeling during the national anthem at a football game. Not because it seems disrespectful to the flag (which it isn’t – stretching it horizontally across a football field, however, is) or to service men and women (I’m not one and I can’t really see the disrespect, but I certainly understand being offended – but those are different things!) No, it’s because in performing his protest, he has not started a national dialog about race and equality. He has started a national screaming match about flags and patriotism.
His point has been buried. No one is talking about Black Lives Matter right now. And why? To me it’s because of the fallacy of this argument:
Except… Rosa Parks was protesting public transportation. She was protesting how black people were forced to give up their seats to white people. The same as the men and women who staged the sit-ins at the lunch counters were protesting restaurants and how they treated minorities. The protest was focused, it was simple and it was local. But it was powerful, so it attracted national attention. How anyone is protesting police brutality and racial inequality in the eyes of the law by kneeling during the national anthem at a sporting event is beyond me. And it seems evident now that it’s beyond most people. Is there police brutality at the football game, Colin? No? Then don’t you think you should go and stage a peaceful protest in front of or within the halls of the police stations and courthouses in places like Ferguson, Missouri?
Confront the injustice where it is actually occurring. Talk to the people who are committing it. Direct the nation’s gaze to them, not to yourself. I have a friend who once shouted “Black Lives Matter!” at a police officer who was buying some lunch at the place where we work. I told her that doesn’t do anything but piss off a guy you don’t even know. I think she sort of understood me, but I wish I had explained it better. My point was, if that cop or the unit he belonged to, had killed or beaten up an innocent black person, then that is an act that should be protested. But to antagonize an officer buying some lunch in Medford, Massachusetts because of what cops in Ferguson, Missouri are doing is to simply create an enemy out of someone who could have been a powerful potential ally.
You have to be smart. And your message has to be focused, simple and local. Symbolic gestures are useless, temporary and easily misunderstood. Kaepernick’s protest has launched not a national dialog about racial equality in the eyes of the law, but has inflamed the fast spreading infection of national divisiveness at work in the country. Patriots clash over who is the better patriot. Instead of meaningful dialog about the proper policing of our communities, we have yet another installment in a seemingly endless stream of rhetoric and name calling. This is what happens when a protest loses its focus, or in this case never really had it.
Okay, I’m off my soap box. Work continues on the new Grant Scotland book, but it’s looking like I may have to scrap this one entirely and start over. We’ll see. I’m pushing through.
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