It seems like we can hardly go a few days without hearing about some form of protest happening. The act of protesting is not in itself bad, but there are ways to do it effectively and ineffectively. Lately, one athlete has been in the spotlight due to his act of protest.
Colin Kaepernick protested racism in America by not standing during the national anthem, telling NFL media, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
Since this statement, mainstream and social media have gone wild. This means that Kaepernick’s protest was incredibly effective. Whether you agree with him or not, being able to reach such a large audience with the message that he wanted is a sign of his effectiveness. So, what made his decision not to stand so effective, and what hinders his message?
Kaepernick addressed a large, relevant audience for his protest. He did it on live TV and then issued a statement, all of which was displayed through the National Football League’s (NFL) affiliates and their website. His audience was also targeted very well. He likely sees the common man as the main supporter of institutionalized racism, and that was who he reached.
The method he seeks to employ, then, is to reach the common man for the sake of taking away their support for institutions that carry out systematic racism—Kaepernick would say these are rogue police officers. Take away the popular support and the institution should fall.
Kaepernick defied a tradition that many people have not examined. Standing for the national anthem is something that most people do without questioning it. Here, Kaepernick takes advantage of this fact to make his act of protest a shock to modern audiences. He directly calls into question the meaning of standing for someone or something as an act of respect.
He begs two questions from onlookers. First, “Do you realize everything that the national anthem and the flag represents?” This is a matter of what you say those symbols mean, and that varies from person to person. Collectively, we agree that it represents the country, but there are limits to what even that means for people.
Second, he asks, “Can you stand fully behind every action and ideal of this country?” For most people, the answer to this is no. There is something disagreeable to everyone, and for Kaepernick, racism is one of those.
Overall, his method and tactics seem to be entirely appropriate for an effective act of protest. However, people are not upset about how he did it; they are upset about the inadvertent messages that are carried with it. To examine that anger requires running into a fundamental question about what symbols mean, and seldom do we agree entirely.
For some, they look at the flag and remember their fallen relatives and friends who fought in the military. Others see our history, good and bad. Then there are those that don’t give the flag any personal meaning. The meaning is whatever works in the moment; they say it’s relative. All of that is fair, but by disrespecting a symbol with such a wide array of meanings, anyone runs the risk of inciting loads of people against them.
Everyone agrees that racism is wrong, that being needlessly shot by the police is wrong, but I would also say that the United States, as represented by the flag, is more than just that. In today’s world, everyone is told of the negative parts of their country.
America is made of the blood of the indigenous people that lived here before us, many slain by our ancestors; the blood of the first settlers ravaged by war and starvation; the blood of the revolutionaries fighting for what they saw as right; the blood of the slave, laboring at risk of death; the blood of the union; the blood of the confederacy; the blood of war after war and abuse after abuse.
You can devalue and disrespect that all you want. That blood was spilt for your right to do it. Even the same, I’ll echo French philosopher Voltaire, and say I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll fight to the death for your right to say it.
So I disagree with Kaepernick’s protest. He targeted the wrong symbol for this. There were many other tactics that could have worked to get the point across. He did it all very effectively, so he protested well, and I can’t blame him for taking advantage of the situation; I just wish he was more precise with his demonstration.