The Purpose Behind Kaepernick’s Provocation
After all, protests are meant to disturb the status quo.
By Danny Enjamio, Santa Fe College
I was disappointed when I first heard of Colin Kaepernick’s demonstration.
Like Kaepernick, I too want the conversation on racial injustice to evolve, but I love this country and don’t enjoy it when somebody publically expresses that they don’t.
With hindsight and heightened examination of the silent protest, though, I’ve developed a greater understanding and more favorable view of it.
While that contributes to how I feel about him personally, for this piece, I’ve separated it from his action and motives on August 26th.
I wish people didn’t feel the need to boycott the anthem, but seemingly all the alternative methods people have suggested for Kaepernick have been done before and yielded little impact, because they were deliberately meant to limit tension.
Many Americans have said that they prefer calls for peace, such as the one presented by NBA stars at the ESPY’s. People don’t want to be made uncomfortable by protests, and the call delivered at the ESPY’s, though commendable and possibly effective, elicited little outrage or even reaction from white America, unlike Kaepernick’s much different call.
Kaepernick had decided not to stand for the anthem multiple times before, but it wasn’t a story until he was asked why. He decided to answer the question candidly, citing racial injustice, this country’s most taboo and controversial topic, as the impetus for his decision.
In just a few minutes at his locker, Kaepernick displayed a more thorough understanding of the issue than the overwhelming majority of Americans, including myself.
His stance wasn’t for self-promotion or personal interest, or at least if it was, I can’t figure out how. People tend to see a public figure garner attention for anything, even a noble cause, and assume the most selfish of intentions. There is the worry that the protester in this situation will be remembered more than the protest itself, but most of that attention won’t be a positive for Kaepernick anyway.
In reality, there’s nothing selfish about his actions; on the contrary, his display was an outward one, full of risk and little personal reward, a protest in its most fundamental sense. On an issue like this one, an effective action often precedes a polarizing reaction. Therefore, his action, and more importantly people’s reaction, validates the idea that this may have been a worthy demonstration.
Elements of the criticism he’s received certainly stem from a perceived disrespect of the anthem and the flag, but the truly disheartening aspect of this situation is the level of outrage over the “why” of this peaceful protest rather than the “what” of it.
But, naturally, everyone’s opinion on this topic is shaped by how they view the cause itself. Not coincidentally, the most pronounced outrage comes from the people that roll their eyes when they hear the word “racism” and don’t believe racial disparities and injustice are still an issue in America.
As social activist Harry Belafonte said last week, “Those who are comfortable with our oppression are the first to criticize us for daring to speak out against it.”
Though that statement undoubtedly contains truth, being against Kaepernick’s cause doesn’t make you an overt racist.
It’s not that most people are in favor of the unfair treatment of black Americans; it’s that most people don’t believe black Americans are still treated unfairly. That represents a necessary distinction.
People will pick apart any demonstration if they deem it to be an unworthy cause. Kaepernick’s stance allows for many people to deflect the conversation from one about the very real plights of being black in America to something else entirely, like their own personal love of America and the military.
For many Americans, the flag carries an exclusively militaristic connotation, and while it is a symbol of those who serve on the battlefield, it’s certainly not meant for that reason alone.
Indeed, many people have died protecting that flag in the hopes of securing the promise the country was founded on; in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq, as well as a bridge in Selma, Alabama, and the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
When asked about how his actions can be construed as a disrespect of the military, Kaepernick himself stated that he has “great respect” for American troops and alluded that he was sticking up for them too because they’re supposed to fight for a country built on “freedom…liberty and justice for everyone. And that’s not happening.”
Some people have even attempted to discredit Kapernick’s right to speak out against privilege and racial injustice because he’s rich or was raised by white parents. Money and success don’t exempt you from stereotypes and prejudice, an idea black Republican senator Tim Scott explained on the Senate floor better than I ever could.
And whether or not you’ve experienced an injustice has no bearing on whether or not you can speak on it. Colin Kaepernick has every right to speak out against racial injustice; so do Cam Newton and Peyton Manning, so do you and I.
There’s also a belief that if Americans like Kaepernick don’t love America they should stop complaining and just leave, something Tomi Lahren asked him to do as she lectured black Americans on racism, a fruitless and wholly offensive endeavor, yet again last week.
A call for assimilation in reaction to Kaepernick’s peaceful demonstration is more disheartening than him daring to disrespect the anthem. Assimilation, or the idea that if an individual experiences or notices a grave injustice they should change rather than the country, threatens progress.
Racial tension, something that carries a negative connotation, is a catalyst for racial progress. Therefore, racial protests that induce tension often lead to progress and are usually appreciated more in hindsight.
And with the benefit of hindsight, I can say that I don’t know if Collin Kaepernick’s protest was an effective one, only that it does contain the symptoms necessary of one that is so.