NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick recently caused a stir when he decided not to stand for the national anthem. He said:
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
It matters not whether I agree with him or not. It matters not whether you agree with him. But how we respond to Mr. Kaepernick’s decision to exercise his right to free speech in this manner matters a lot.
I have an acquaintance on Facebook, a white person who lives and was reared in the deep South, who attacked Mr. Kaepernick. This person, through a posting of Kaepernick’s photo beside one of an African American in military uniform, made it clear what kind of black man was acceptable.
Her attack was not an isolated one. Nor were such attacks restricted to people who were reared in a culture of segregation and discrimination. Rich white men reared in New York City jumped on the band wagon, too.
One thing I’ve noticed is that people who profess to love our Constitution are usually the first ones to attack others who exercise certain of the freedoms guaranteed by that constitution. More specifically, they embrace people who exercise their Second Amendment rights, yet they vilify people who exercise their First Amendment rights.
Their inconsistency reveals the hypocrisy within us, a topic I recently discussed in greater depth.
It is not limited to constitutional matters. Personally, I’ve always wondered how Christians bring themselves to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The pledge seems thoroughly inconsistent with the principles of discipleship. How can one claim to follow a risen Christ, to the cross if necessary (as did Paul and others), while pledging one’s unqualified allegiance to a political entity (Rome)? Yet most people I know who claim allegiance to Jesus seem not to be troubled by the conflict.
As I said, it matters not to me whether we agree or disagree with Mr. Kaepernick. Far more important in my mind is whether we want to live in a country that gives citizens the right to freely express themselves, even if that expression is offensive to some of us.
I value deeply the privilege of living in such a place. Yet we are constantly reminded how fragile those rights are.
The broader issue is our seemingly innate need for compliance and conformity. I blame this in part on our formal education system. Compliance and conformity are values embedded in that system — values that are far more important than open inquiry and the honest, unconstrained search for truth.
You see it in our use of the word “community.” More often than not, by community we mean a group of like-minded people. Humans simply don’t seem to be particularly adept at getting along with people who don’t share their views (or skin color, religion, etc.). We like our tribes to be homogenous.
Yet America is supposed to be different. And it is, to an extent. But it’s not so different for some than others. Mr. Kaepernick, by his actions, should remind us all of that reality.
My limited awareness of these dynamics does not render me immune to surprise and disappointment when my fellow citizens lash out at fellow Americans who express opinions and perspectives contrary to their own. Why people get so emotional and mean in reaction to harmless words or gestures perplexes me. Why they remain so unemotional and untroubled by harmful words and gestures equally perplexes me.
Undoubtedly, I have done the same. I have spoken when I should have remained silent, and remained silent when truth should have spurred words or action.
We all claim to embrace the truth. Yet by our actions we often reveal that it is not truth we desire the most.