Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Protesting the Anthem

There's been a whole lot of ink spilled over Colin Kapernick and his refusal to stand for the National Anthem. As I'm sure you know, he's doing so as a protest against the treatment of African Americans in this country. Many have joined in that protest in one form or another, many others have refused to, often condemning him, and those who have joined him, for being disrespectful to the flag, to the military, and to our country.

This morning, the news was filled with another story about an unarmed black man being gunned down by police. Another. Words fail, so I'm not going to even try to respond specifically to that incident, at least for now.

Here's what I want to say to anyone who is mad at Kapernick et al for what they're doing. Let's concede, at least for the moment, what you're complaining about. Let's concede that Kapernick is a whiny, privileged hypocrite. That he's aggressively disrespecting the military which has kept him safe*. That anyone who feels this way should just be quiet or (as ridiculous as this is on its face) leave the country. Let's, for a moment, let the worst version of Kapernick and his protest be what we accept as true.

* Although, I'll admit to being unbelievably frustrated that we've let anyone turn this into a debate about the military. The flag is not the military, and the military is not the flag. Unless and until someone actually calls out the military for something, conflating a protest against the anthem/flag with criticism of the military is just specious.

How bad is it? I mean--if Kapernick is everything his critics claim he is, what is he doing that's so bad? He's disrespecting a flag, and an anthem, and a country. I'm not a huge fan of that--I love our country, and as a religious person, I take symbols seriously. So, I'm somewhat ambivalent about the way he's protesting. But, that's all he's doing--protesting against symbols and institutions. Quietly and peacefully. That's as bad as it gets.

And, why is he protesting? Because black men keep getting shot by police when they've done nothing wrong. Because that's just the most heinous, egregious, awful, disgusting, unthinkable, evil manifestation of the larger reality, which is that racism is real, and it's present, and it affects people of color every single day in myriad ways, large and small. And that most of us who don't live daily with racism don't seem to be too bothered by that.

Disrespecting a flag vs. systemic racism. And, we're focussing on that disrespect.

If you don't like what he's protesting, or how he's protesting--fine. That's your right. But, if you think that the form of his protest is what's really important here, then we've got a bigger problem.

The world is on fire; let's stop protesting that we don't like the sound of the siren.

1 comment:

Eric Cotton said...

Hi Rabbi
In response to your blog, I don't think Kapernick is doing this to protest or bring attention to unarmed black men being killed by cops. Maybe I am too cynical, but I think it stems from him losing his starting qb role on the 49ers. Where was he in 2014 when Michael Brown was killed or in 2012 when Trayon Martin was killed? Playing football as a starter. In 2014 he signed a contract for $126 million.

He is a backup qb. Few fans know who plays backup on a NFL team. This is his way of gaining attention for himself. He has had ample time while being in a position (athlete/celebrity) to protest the killing of innocent people, but chose not to. And even if he is being sincere (which I doubt), what has been the result? Discussion about him, the military, the police, but not the issue he is so concerned about - innocent people being killed. His donation of $1 million is a drop in the bucket. My dues represent about 2% of my salary. His donation, which he hasn't done yet and only announced after criticism, is less than 1% of his contract.
Kneeling during the National Anthem is his right, but it has done nothing to further the issue he is allegedly concerned about.