This current moment feels like a time of reckoning for our country, particularly for White Americans like myself. I’ve been reflecting on the renewed controversy this week over Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protests. At the time, folks objected, saying it was disrespectful to the flag. I admit it made me uncomfortable. The most common comment I heard from white friends is that maybe he had a valid beef, but he needed to “find a better way” to protest.
This week, as I understand it, there was renewed criticism of kneeling protests by New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees. After severe backlash from the public and prominent black NFL players, Brees apologized, and then the NFL apologized for not listening to black players, and stated support for players’ rights to speak out.
What has changed, obviously, is that there are now widespread, worldwide protests, calling attention to the same issues Colin Kaepernick tried to highlight in 2016. In this moment, there is again debate about what is the “right” way to protest. Again, we say that we understand there are issues, but folks “need to find a better way” to protest.
So, what is the “better way” to protest? Better for who? The word “protest” means “an expression or declaration of objection, disapproval, or dissent, often in opposition to something a person is powerless to prevent or avoid.” So a protest is often something I’d prefer not to hear. Maybe I strongly object to hearing. So perhaps a “better way” to protest is a method that reduces my discomfort in addressing the underlying issue? So, am I asking someone who feels intense pain over a situation that he or she has no control over to state it in such a way that causes me no discomfort?
If that’s the case, will I even listen? I know, as a parent, kids’ complaints often didn’t register until they hit the screaming phase. When I think about it, Colin Kaepernik was protesting peacefully. He didn’t loot, burn, yell, or interfere with the game. My understanding is that he even consulted a former green beret for advice as to how to respectfully protest during the national anthem. And yet, we still found this “disrespectful” and not the “right way” to protest. Is it possible, we just didn’t want to hear? Is it possible it took what is going on today to hear? To change the NFL’s position?
Perhaps, if we ask people to protest peacefully, we should listen when they do.
Wow, so good to see you back! Weird… I was just thinking about you the other day as I was culling the list of blogs I subscribe to (fortunately, I didn’t delete yours “just in case”).
I really love what you wrote. It’s something that my husband and I have been talking about lately. I think the whole push back Kaepernik received was from those who would prefer he – and those like him – would just keep quiet. Those of us with privileged aren’t anxious to give any of it up. The whole “disrespecting the flag and the military was a red herring designed to fire up the base and confuse the rest. It’s disheartening that they didn’t listen then… and, maybe even more to the point, haven’t listened for the last 400 years.
Good to have you and your insightful writing back!
Thanks, Janis! I haven’t blogged for quite awhile, as I’ve suffered a low-grade PTSD since Trump’s election. I didn’t really want to write about that, but just writing about my latest vacation seemed vacuous, so I just stopped. But, with what’s going on, I have felt blog posts screaming to get out! Thanks for the encouragement!
“So, am I asking someone who feels intense pain over a situation that he or she has no control over to state it in such a way that causes me no discomfort?”
This is it, tight here! Thanks for putting it so succinctly!