The American and the Problem with Their Country

Thinking Through Anger to a Place of Understanding and Compassion

I’ve spent the last couple days trying to understand the outrage around Kaepernick’s actions, and also wondering why no one is getting outraged over the Native American fight against the new pipeline, but that’s another discussion for another time. I see so much value in understanding what makes us tick as human beings since it gives perspective to the issues we face and allows empathy and connection to have a place in our dealings with each other.

If you aren’t sure who Kaepernick is or what the fuss is all about, google it and get up to speed. I’ll be here when you get back. The TL;DR, for people who are pressed for time, is that pro football player, Colin Kaepernick, recently became newsworthy because the media suddenly picked up on the fact that he has refused to stand this season during the national anthem as a form of protest to raise awareness and continue the conversation around the atrocities happening to people of color in the United States. This has sparked a lot of outrage from a wide variety of people.

I think I get it. The people outraged tend to be people who feel they have contributed to making America a great country, whether that’s because they are/were a teacher, in government, military, an activist, or a member of the working class who’s money keeps us all floating, to name only a few. When you contribute to your country, there is pride in that work and a feeling of patriotism typically follows. We identify as “America” and all the pieces that contribute to its aesthetic become an extension of us. There’s ownership.

When someone protests or calls out a problem in our perception of the proud nation with its various ideals, benefits, and privileges, we feel attacked, some would say disrespected, on a very personal, individual level and that hurts. A lot. We want validation for our contribution.

What I think we fail to realize is that America is made up of 320 million other people and while you may have contributed in a positive way, you are not the whole of the United States of America. Your contribution is important and can, in many ways, be more important on some level than others, but in the end, it is a group effort.

A nation of human beings is never perfect and should always be striving to improve through conversation, debate, education, and action. Too often in our current social climate do people align themselves so unwaveringly to one side or the other that they forget to listen to others and take a hard look at what they are so quick to defend.

As a country, we are failing the people who make it up in many ways and there are people who want to see that change. This is why Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus. This is why the pioneers at Stonewall rioted. This is why Susan B. Anthony struggled for years against the National Labor Congress to secure the right to vote for women in America.

America used to be a place where women had fewer rights than men. You can thank a rebellious few for starting a movement that has improved the lives of half of the population of America and makes sure that your rights are the same no matter your gender.

America used to be a place where loving someone of the same sex was criminal and could mean death, a life of fear, imprisonment, and abandonment. You can thank a rebellious few who fought the fear present in our culture at that time and paved the way for the quality of life we enjoy today.

America also used to be a place where the government and the religious majority supported slavery and the idea that any person of color was somehow subhuman and worth no more than a farm animal if that. You can thank a rebellious few for the equality we see today for every human being no matter the color of their skin.

These are only a few of the massive changes that the United States of America has undergone since its birth and there will always be more because we will never be perfect, but we will always strive to be better. Every time the image of America as “The Greatest Country in the World” is peeled back to reveal some creeping issue or glaring hole in its structure, people will feel attacked, they will react, and sometimes it will be violent.

I guess my plea goes out to these people who feel disrespected by extension because Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem and used his position in the media and sports to draw attention to an issue so many people want to ignore:

Stop identifying as the only person out there who has made this country great. This is not an attack against you. This is a call to you, individually and as part of a greater whole, to examine what we have built and work together to make it even better than it is. We can’t do this on our own, but if we work together to educate, discuss, and act we can progress as a nation and truly become greater than we were.