When the first Colin Kaepernick caper happened a couple weeks ago, it didn’t really hit my radar screen. Just another jock with a $114 million contract trying to get some attention. But, when he did the same thing a second time - and I’d learned more about his thinking - it registered. ‘Cause, in some ways, he speaks for me.
I’m not going to carry any water for the guy. He’s a big fella. He can take care of himself, though he’s been pounded on heavily by a bunch of disagreeable types who put mouths in gear before engaging brains. With ignorant racial name-calling, anonymous demands he leave the country and a few death threats from Bubbas even Freud wouldn’t understand, he’s clearly gotten the public attention he sought. Though, from the mostly off-the-point reactions, not a lot of people have received his intended message.
Kaepernick presents himself to society as a black man, though he’s really mixed race as is Barack Obama - a white mother and black father while his adopted parents are both white. Like our President, he’s chosen to present himself to the world as a black man. Largely, I suspect, because of the color of his skin though there may be other reasons as well.
Kaepernick wants to call attention to a number of things: unarmed and often innocent black people being killed by police; failure, he sees, to punish the shooters; societal prejudices, mistreatment of some returning military personnel - especially blacks. He picked the national anthem to make his stand because he sees - especially in the third verse - references to slavery and because it was written by a man who owned slaves.
Kaepernick says he’s doing what he’s doing because he has the platform and public notoriety that most people don’t. He plans to keep ignoring the custom of standing for the anthem until he sees what he terms “improvements.”
Maybe I tend to give Colin a bit of space because, in some ways, I have some similar feelings. I, too, see some significant faults within our society/government and hypocrisy in some of our national rituals. Not having the “platform” of a star athlete, I’ve conducted my own personal “protest” by not fully engaging in some common practices we too often take for granted.
For example, for many years I belonged to a fine national service organization which opened every meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance. I can’t tell you why, but one day, I was reciting along with everyone else until it came to the last line. My throat tightened and I couldn’t say the words - “with liberty and justice for all.” Nothing came out.
I hardly noticed. But, when it happened the next week, something inside said “you need to do some thinking about this.” I did. It simply boiled down to my own sincerely held belief that this nation has not provided “liberty and justice for all” and saying the words wouldn’t make it so. It seemed false and amounted to mouthing words that didn’t mean anything.
A second such experience came in church sometime later as we sang “American the Beautiful.” The words “...Thine alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears.” and the phrase ...“brotherhood from sea to shining sea.” Again, for the first time, the words wouldn’t come. Our cities long ago lost their “alabaster” qualities. “Brotherhood?” And our polluted oceans haven’t been “shining” for many decades. Suddenly, the words had no meaning. For me.
Now, I’m not advocating anyone stop singing the National Anthem or refuse to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Not at all. I am saying give the words some thought. Write them down and look at each one. Those words and the others. Think about their meanings. Apply those meanings to the reality in which we live. Do you still find them relevant? Can our country still be defined by their use? Was it ever?
Nearly all organized religions in our Western world are losing adherents. Most leaving say they don’t need a building or hymn singing to define religious experience. Many say they’re opting for a more internal, personal approach to fulfill their spiritual needs. They complain organized religion is too often just rote memory or - to them - platitudes that aren’t being followed with action. They see little meaning to rituals, printed prayers or worshiping with others in a congregation. They express a need for more direct connectedness with their God. One-on-one.
In some ways, these folk are not far removed from the real meanings behind what Colin Kaepernick is doing. He’s opting to turn his back on the crowd at a strategic, very noticeable moment to say “to me, things aren’t working.” He’s turning from the expected ritual - i.e. standing at an appropriate time - to say “We aren’t the shining country we once were because too many people are not being treated justly. Our cities are not ‘alabaster’ but too often crime-ridden slums where a lot of Americans are born without the possibility of living life as full-fledged citizens. There is no ‘liberty and justice’ for all.”
We’ve fought many a war to defend Kaepernick’s right to do what he’s doing. And for the copy cats who’re now appearing. It may be hard to accept, but it’s one of our most basic rights. The First Amendment.
Our society and our reality are going through some massive and lasting changes. We’re never going back. Maybe we’ve reached a time when we need to carefully scrutinize what we’re doing, note what’s still relevant, dismiss what isn’t and change what needs changing. If that’s not Kaepernick’s message, I guess it’s just mine.