The continued protest of NFL players, coaches, and owners by kneeling during the national anthem at football games this season has taken on a life of its own. What began as a one-man protest of mistreatment and disparities of marginalized people in this country is now a movement and a controversy. To what end is the question.
I believe that former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, was definitely in the right when he began kneeling during the national anthem. A mixed-race person of deep faith, who sports a long afro, he undoubtedly knows first-hand the trials and tribulations of people of color.
He was protesting abuses of law enforcement officials of people of color and the general societal disparities that continue to hinder people of color from realizing full benefits of American citizenship. Equal employment opportunities, voter enfranchisement, and fair housing come to mind.
What has become clear is that kneeling is the new standing up.
But now, the protests are being met with severe pushback, to include that of President Trump, whose tried bullying NFL owners. Rather than acknowledge the reasons for the protest, and the resulting solidarity amongst NFL personnel, naysayers are suggesting the protestors are unpatriotic.
This is not surprising to me. People in privilege will naturally deflect any attention to their privilege, especially that which is borne of race and prejudice, and choose instead to shine a dark light on the non-issue (the American flag, in this case). The fact of the matter in this situation is that we Americans cannot escape the reality of oppression, discrimination, disparate treatment, and marginalization that continues to plague communities of color.
I won’t bore you with statistics. (Here is a great article, though.) You’ve seen them all. Besides, we humans tend choose our personal positions over facts, anyway. The Nobel Laureate, Daniel Kahneman, has pointed out in his work that “conclusions come first,” so seldom do facts persuade people to change their thinking.
The fact is the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that even burning the flag is protected speech. Again, the flag is not the issue.
Deflection doesn’t make the cause of the protest go away. Nothing will. We’ll always have forces of white supremacy in our society that refuse to acknowledge and accept the basic principles of American democracy: that all people are created equal.
Those forces will always choose preference over equality. People in power will continue to choose others who look like them over others who don’t look like them for jobs, voter rights, and mortgages, and every other symbol of freedom in the American dream.
Kaepernick has become a villain in the whole process, unable to find a new team to play for, despite stellar gifts and talent. I hope he doesn’t give up, although I remain unhopeful for positive change in the issues of protest. Still, we must continue to stand up for those who live on the margins of our society.
Remember what Dr. King taught us, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." It affects us even more when we insist upon holding on to personal stories rather than give in to facts. As Kahneman points out, it is a failure of imagination to insist you are right when facing another reality.
Sometimes, we need to protest the one who resides within us, and our own beliefs, then let progress move forward as it should. Can someone take a knee for that?