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Did Colin Kaepernicks’s Protest Help or Hurt Black Men In America?

It’s been approximately two years since Colin Kaepernick decided not to stand for the national anthem to bring awareness and to protest against police brutality.  His peaceful protest has garnered support and criticism from people of all races and political affiliations around the world and it has definitely shined the light on the issue of race here in America. In an effort to keep NFL protesters from following in Colin’s footsteps, the NFL recently implemented a new policy that condemns players from protesting from the sidelines during the national anthem. The league will issue a fine to any player who they judge is “disrespecting” the flag by not standing. As an alternative, the league says a player has the right to protest, but to do so he must stay in the locker room if he is unwilling to stand during the anthem. This new policy contradicts everything America is supposed to stand for. The 1st Amendment clearly states: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.  Herein lies the hypocrisy of the leagues new policy. The founding fathers felt it was important to give every human being the freedom and the right to free speech and peaceful protest. Yet the new policy does just the opposite. It punishes players who are exercising their constitutional rights. On the surface it appears this country is headed in the wrong direction in regards to race. We have a president who refuses to condemn the actions of a neo-Nazi hate group, we have far too many incidences of police brutality, we have black men being arrested in coffee shops simply because of the color of their skin and we have a country that has not figured out that diversity is actually its greatest asset. Based on these things alone I can understand why there is so much pessimism and negativity in regards to race. And yet I remain optimistic about the future of race relations in this country. I remain optimistic because of people like Colin Kaepernick. People who choose to take a stand (or a knee) for something and are willing to do whatever it takes to insure that this country lives up to its promise of being land of the free and home of the brave. I’m reminded of a quote by Dr. Steven Covey from his bestselling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in which he stated, “seek first to understand, and then be understood.” This quote truly captures how American society could address race relations going forward, and use Colin’s protest as an opportunity for growth and transformation. At first glance, it is understandable why so many people are upset about Colin not standing for the national anthem. To some, it appears that he is disrespecting the flag and this country. This is the result of mainstream media focusing on some comments made by the current president. Here are just a few of his comments which took the issue away from police brutality and reframed it into an issue of disrespecting the flag. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b—- off the field right now. Out. He’s fired! He’s fired!'”  Yes, that is a direct quote from the president of the United States! Although the protest was never about disrespecting the flag or our country, once the president made that comment the media ran with it and it didn’t take long for his comments to become the focus of the protest. If we are willing to look a little deeper and fully understand the motives of his protest we would see that it has always been about the unnecessary killing of black men in America and in no way does that disrespect our country. As I am reminded of the incidences of police brutality against black men in this country, I can immediately empathize with Colin’s protest. I can relate to his anger, frustration, and sadness about watching too many men of color needlessly lose their lives, and then have their perpetrators walk away without being held accountable for their actions. Understanding breeds compassion, and if we are willing to simply see this point of view, then we can recognize that this is the core of his protest. No matter how the media attempts to frame Colin’s demonstration, I believe this is the primary reason he refused to stand. This leads us to the question: Is Colin’s protest unpatriotic? Herein is the great American hypocrisy. The dictionary defines a patriot as: “a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors.” Isn’t this exactly what Colin is attempting to do? He recognizes that American citizens are being killed and he is taking a stand against this crisis. How can this be viewed as unpatriotic? His actions are the highest form of patriotism. He is willing to not only sacrifice his livelihood for what he believes, he is actually willing to put his life on the line (he has received several death threats) in an attempt to make America better by bringing attention to the fact that too many men of color are being senselessly and unnecessarily killed. According to Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report (www.bleacherreport.com), several NFL league officials actually hate Colin and his stance. Here are just a few quotes from top NFL officials: “I don’t want him anywhere near my team,” one executive told Freeman. “He’s a traitor.” Said another exec, “He has no respect for our country. F— that guy.” And from a general manager, “In my career, I have never seen a guy so hated by front office guys as Kaepernick.” So, is it patriotic for a man to be hated simply because he is attempting to stop the killing of innocent Americans? Think about that for a moment. In regards to the military, this is what they fight for. Service men and women fight for our right to speak out, defend our country, and use our freedom of speech to help improve this country. They aren’t fighting for us to be silent when it comes to addressing issues within the confines of America. If we aren’t willing to speak out to make America better, should that not be considered unpatriotic? In a lot of ways, the Colin Kaepernick story is a microcosm of being a black man in America. On one hand, if we take a stand and speak out against social injustice, we are accused of being angry black men who hate America. On the other hand, if we aren’t attempting to resolve the problems in our own communities, we are called lazy and indifferent to the challenges of black men in America. As I’ve watched and listened to some of the opinions voiced by black men, I can only imagine how difficult it must be for Colin. There are some black men who attacked and vilified him for his stance while others embraced and supported his decision to protest. As a man who happens to be black, I can definitely relate to this conundrum. For most of my life, I have been accused of being a sellout because of my optimism and belief that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it, even if you’re black. I have been criticized, ostracized, and accused of being blind to the challenges facing black men in this country. Sometimes it feels like a no win situation. But you can’t please everyone, so it’s important to be clear on what you stand for and not be affected by the thoughts and opinions of others. And now I would like to answer the question I posed at the beginning: Is Colin Kaepernick helping or hurting black men in America? I believe he is definitely helping black men, and more importantly, he is helping America. I say this because his actions ignited a debate about police brutality and race and a few years from now, I believe he will be recognized and acknowledged for his willingness to take a stand (or in this case a knee) against an issue that has been pushed under the American rug for far too long. In the long run, I believe he will be recognized as a powerful change agent whose actions moved this country forward and ultimately created the change he wanted to see. Thank you, Colin Kaepernick for teaching me that you do not necessarily have to stand up in order to love your country. You can kneel and love your country even when most people around you will accuse you of being a traitor.

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