What Colin Kaepernick’s Protest revealed about America
A protest is a tricky thing. It’s not the means to an end yet it is the crucial first step to bringing forth change to an issue. In a more general sense, it’s the promotional campaign of a product not much different in purpose or intent than ads for a new mobile device or for a sale going on at the mall. It’s step one in the revolutionary’s playbook: Protest to draw attention then when we have attention, work to incite conversation around resolution and change. By their very nature protests have to be a bit extreme in order to be effective. What good is a march if 6 people and a puppy walk down a street? To get attention there needs to be a mass of people willing to shut down traffic, block entries, repeating chants and doing whatever else to make their point literally and figuratively felt and heard. In Kaepernick’s case, it would be sitting out the national anthem on one of the most watched programs on TV — an NFL football game.
The uproar around Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for the national anthem in order to bring awareness to racial injustices against blacks brought out a lot of pride and a lot of ugly but there is something about the ugly that I found disturbing. The use of deflection. When deflection is used to undermine something like a protest against racial injustice it feels damn near sinister and deliberate even if that wasn’t the intent. Here’s what I mean: For everyone up in arms about the protest, the argument centered around the what and not the why. By focusing on WHAT he did instead of focusing on WHY he did it, the conversation of why he did it is mostly defeated. In the process, a villain is made of Kaepernick and a self-righteous, patriotic, Captain America caricature sitting high on the throne of nationalism takes centerstage. How dare he disrespect America? The irony behind that statement is grounds for a completely different discussion about how a protest is actually more American than the hatred spewed at him but again, that’s another conversation. Some choose to call into question the character of Kaepernick and the possibility of ulterior motives, some ask ‘well why doesn’t he just donate some money?’ See how that dances around the perimeter of what he did and never moves the conversation to why? Furthermore, the answers to those questions are very simple: When the message is of truth, the messenger, no matter how flawed cannot weaken the message and you can’t JUST throw money at these problems and expect them to be rectified. It takes hands willing to get dirty.
Here’s another part of the story that I find disturbing. When America sends the Red Cross into disaster zones or third world countries that are starving, the protocol isn’t to just show up with food and leave. We don’t throw money at the issue and walk away. No, we send along with food and other provisions agriculture experts and farmers to understand why crops are failing in the first place. When Doctors discover aggressive strains of terminal illnesses like Cancer, money is raised to figure out why and how to treat it. In almost every case of large scale disaster we always seek to find out why. Except when someone is protesting racial injustice, right?
Could Kaepernick have done something else to appease the tastes of the patriotic sect of America and avoid the backlash? Sure, but that would’ve likely made for a rather weak protest. So for the ultra Patriotic pissed off people, lets not forget that America was essentially and effectively founded out of protest against British rule and that nasty ‘O’ word: Oppression. American soldiers have fought for Kaepernick’s right to do exactly what he did and when you make the effort, knowingly or unknowingly, to never move the conversation from what he did to why he did it in the first place, you’re spitting in the very face of the freedom you claim to hold so dearly.