You're Protesting Wrong

The best kind of protest in America is no protest at all.

Colin Kaepernick's protest had nothing to do with the national anthem, patriotism, or respect. But you wouldn't know that from most of the conversation about his actions.

Some people are calling him a mediocre, second-string football player seeking his thirty seconds of fame. Others are calling him ungrateful for protesting black oppression while pulling in a multi-million dollar paycheck.

Most people, however, are questioning his method. More often than not, you'll hear folks calmly discussing the efficacy of using the national anthem as a forum for protest. Liberals and conservatives alike will concede his right to free speech before shifting to a philosophical debate on the art of appropriate persuasion.

In other words, no one is talking about the message of Kaepernick's protest, just the method.

The method was a peaceful sit-down during a time when standing is an expected sign of respect. No violence ensued and no service was disrupted, but no one wants to talk about those things. They want talk about love of country, quality of life, and respecting America despite its shortcomings. No nation is perfect, but that's no excuse to appropriate a moment of national respect for a personal platform.

They certainly don't want talk the message: state-sponsored oppression of African-Americans through law enforcement. And unlike news headlines that can be dismissed with a swipe or press of a button, it brought the issue of racism home to white Americans by confronting their national pride with a national shame. More than any op-ed ever could, it indicted their beliefs in freedom and equality as superficial and hollow.

Simply put, Colin Kaepernick's protest made white Americans uncomfortable. But rather than address why they're uncomfortable, they attacked him for making them uncomfortable. They may say it's his method, not his message, but what they're really saying is their comfort is more important than the discomfort of the oppressed.

Addressing injustice is never comfortable. There is no right time or right method because doing the right thing is rarely convenient. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said in his Letter from Birmingham Jail:
The Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action."
Why are we talking about a song when the real issue is racism? Why are we defending American equality when we can't even secure it for all of our own people?

This isn't about disrespecting veterans or America. It's about being unable to tune out of a message we don't want to hear. We can disagree with the method all we want, but it got our attention. As far as protests go, it's been extremely effective in raising awareness yet minimally disruptive to everyday life.

We're just mad that we actually heard Kaepernick's message. We're mad that he's not content to live a quiet, privileged life oblivious to the misfortune of others. We're even madder because he made us feel guilty for living ours.

The national anthem is practically a religious experience for Americans as we stand proudly like peacocks, basking in the glow of our wonderful lives. Seeing someone sitting down interrupts this experience with the reality that not everyone has our life. It's like walking by a homeless person while sipping our second Starbucks drink of the day. We're more likely to complain about how they smell or assume they're too lazy to hold down a job than skip a latte that week so they can have something to eat.

It doesn't really matter what the protest is about; most Americans will find some reason to dismiss it because we prefer to hoard our comforts rather than share in the sufferings of others. We're selfish. Which is ironic because we're quick to accuse protesters like Kaepernick of selfishly using a national event for his own purposes.

So let's drop the pretense and collectively agree that our outrage at Colin Kaepernick has nothing to do with his athletic ability, his adopted parents, or even his choice of protest venue. Instead, let's all proudly shout the real national anthem: "I'm an American, and I only care myself."

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Photo credit: Kaepernick via photopin (license)