When injustice is entangled with the traditions, symbols, and common practice of the society, it seems appropriate that challenge to these traditions, symbols, and common practices would be required for change to occur. Cries that Colin Kaepernick be punished miss the point. On the other hand, those calls and attacks on his character are eerily reminiscent of a history this country quickly forgets. Maybe the point and purpose of protest is misunderstood. Protest is meant to bring attention. What I lament most is that some of my friends choose to focus on Kaepernick’s actions rather than focus on the injustices his sitting protests. Supporting the United States means supporting all of US.
Maybe a case study would help. It comes in the form of a narrative and two pictures.
Imagine you were wanting a seat at your favorite lunch spot. Four men have taken a seat, preventing you from sitting down. You notice that they don’t have any food. They are just sitting there…in your way! You leave, and eat your lunch somewhere else that day.
You return another day to find a different set of people sitting at the counter. You are furious, and so are a large group of bystanders. The bystanders begin to throw insults at the troublemakers sitting at the lunch counter. Some are spitting. Someone even dumps food on them. They sit still, not reacting. They claim to be protesting injustice and oppression. You hear the bystanders yell things like, “If you don’t like the way things are done here, go somewhere else!”
In Lieu of a History Lesson
I’m not going to launch into a history lesson. If you need to be reminded of the 1960’s please follow this link. I will point out the parallels. TRADITION. It seemed that it had always been that Blacks did not sit at the lunch counter. It seemed automatic that United States citizens would stand at the presentation of the national anthem. SYMBOLS. The lunch counter was a symbol of civil order and accepted codes of conduct. The presentation of colors is a show of national pride and respect for law, order, justice, and civil liberty. COMMON PRACTICE. The common practice was prohibition against Blacks sitting at the Woolworth lunch counter. The national anthem common practice is standing with your hand over your heart as in a pledge of allegiance.
Twitter and other social media have become our public space, our Woolworth’s if you will. Some are choosing to dump vitriol upon Kaepernick and others who have participated in protests related to common practices in sports and politics like placing your hand over your heart, wearing messages on warm-ups, or standing during the national anthem. Some are calling for the National Football League (NFL) to punish Kaepernick, or calling for his San Francisco 49ers team to discipline him. This is the same dumping as if some lives don’t matter. “But, he disrespects the country and the anthem.” Let us be clear. He acts contrary to the tradition, symbols, and common practices…in order to bring attention to the fact that these traditions, symbols, and common practices are not promoting justice and liberty for all. This is the definition of a protest. Protests will inconvenience you in some way. That is their intent and their device to bring attention to failures in the status quo. You are welcome to disagree with Kaepernick’s action or the actions employed in any protest. But, what about his point, his question, his complaint about our failures? Are you convinced that justice is shared equally by all? Have you come up with a better way to bring attention to the problem of injustice through your daily activities?
What Can We Do?
Another sentiment I hear through social media is, “I’m tired!” This can be heard from bystanders who are upset about the occupying of the lunch counter and others. I am tired. I’m tired of seeing US citizens murdered during traffic stops. Convicted rapists being released after months in prison. Children abused and neglected because parents have no training or means to address their own adverse childhood experiences. I’m tired of feeling that I have to defend the people who speak out against these injustices. I’m tired of having to remind people to be empathetic, to listen for understanding, to realize that liberty means we may not agree. I’m tired, but I will not stop. I have to do something! Shouldn’t WE ALL be doing something?
My protest: I sit and write to educate through a blog, books, and publishing. Colin sits during the national anthem. The Greensboro sit-in four sat at a lunch counter. Though I’m tired, and often dumb-founded at the movement to the contrary, I continue to support a movement of liberty, justice, freedom, and choice for all. I continue to support dialogue and civil discussion without the generic and generalized labels. I continue to support addressing the injustice and the wrong rather than getting caught up in the method through which it was brought to my attention–or the messenger. As a United States citizen, this public statement and action of my conviction is a guaranteed right. My respect of your inalienable rights is implied as well. These are not mutually exclusive.
Funny thing about interrupting your daily routine, your expectations, your common practices: You take notice. You recognize something is wrong. Are you going to be the citizen that dumps literal and figurative insults requesting that I be punished for a peaceful protest, or are you going to be the citizen that joins me in protest, action, and a movement until we change the status quo?