Wednesday, August 31, 2016

How Not To Respond About Kaepernick: A Quick Tutorial on Talking About Race, Social Media, and Adoption

I don't have to start with a long retelling of the chain of events, right?  It basically boils down to: National Anthem, Kaepernick sits for the second game in a row, camera notices this time, he gives an explanation for his personal choice, and social media explodes.

And I'm not going to give amazing renditions or why this was ok or not.  If you're still trying to formulate an opinion or understanding, this article lays out my feelings (Kaepernick wants Justice not Peace) and here's some Christian-focused thoughts on nationalism and patriotism (What Christians Can Learn from Colin Kaepernick).

What I want to address now are some recurring themes I see in the discussion of the issue.  Because this event has led to lots of talk about race, privilege, and adoption and I really like to talk about those things.  Ask me about any of them and I will pull out my soapbox if given the opportunity.

Here's what I'm seeing be brought up:

  • Why this?  He has so much money why not do something that will actually help?
  • If he cares so much about Black people, what is he doing for them?
  • Here's a whole list of problems that are perceived as Black problems (poverty, crime, absent fathers, education, etc)...how does not standing for the national anthem help with those?
  • He's so lucky to have been adopted, why can't he just be thankful?
  • Its so much better for him here than anywhere else in the world, he should be thankful and proud to be American.
  • This is so disrespectful to veterans.

Not an exhaustive list by far, but hits some main points.  So lets tackle them (football pun intended).

Why this?  He has so much money why not do something that will actually help?

We don't even know if he intended for the cameras to catch him or make a big fuss about this, it was a personal choice and conviction that he acted on.  That being said, if we assume that he did intend for this to be a public protest, we have to keep some things in mind.  Change in this country is rarely abrupt.  It takes time, energy, focus, and patience to see the social progress we strive for.  One of the first steps in that though, is raising awareness.  Colin chose a peaceful and purposeful action, and raised awareness at that game.  He used his time in the spotlight to succinctly explain his rationale for why he did what he did.  Raising awareness is actually helping.  Because without it we don't get the slow wheels of change moving.  

If he cares so much about Black people, what is he doing for them?

Well first off, he is a Black person, so this question feels odd.  He is just as likely to be a victim of what he was protesting as the rest of the Black population in this country.  So what he's doing is protesting that treatment.  That's doing something.  Secondly, its not a question you would ever ask of a White athlete who was making a stand about something.  Can you imagine Peyton Manning ever being asked what he's doing for White people?  Nah.  

Here's a whole list of problems that are perceived as Black problems (poverty, crime, absent fathers, education, etc)...how does not standing for the national anthem help with those?

Those problems?  Poverty, schools, urban blight, etc are all products of the same beast that created a legal system that is wrought with racial bias...which is what Colin is protesting.  They are all products of the history of this country that I couldn't possibly spell out in its entirety in this one post of mine.  If that doesn't make sense to you, I would recommend the following books to movies to start you off.

Beyond that reality, its patently false to paint the Black experience in America as one fraught with poverty, crime, or broken families.  Painting an entire race of people with such a broad brush diminishes their humanity and individual realities.  There is some statistical truth, particularly surrounding wealth and education, that show stark disparities between the Black and White experience in America, but they can all be tied to racist historical and present realities, not a failure or inadequacy on the part of the African American population individually or at large.  

On that note, I specifically want to address the common racist trope that Black fathers are absent fathers.  The reality is that Black fathers are more likely to be involved in their children's lives than any other race of father in America.  Given the high rates of mass incarceration for Black males (another area with extreme racial bias both in who gets charged with crimes and how long they are sentenced), this is staggering.  


For more on mass incarceration, check out The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.

He's so luck to have been adopted, why can't he just be thankful?

When it comes to adoption, adoptive parents are the lucky ones.  Our children get to decide for themselves how they feel about adoption, because adoption isn't simple.  And while plenty of adult adoptees are happy, thankful, and a whole range of positive emotions, that's not the only possible experience with adoption and those feelings may coexist with loss and sadness.  And regardless of how an adoptee feels about their adoption, this situation has nothing whatsoever to do with his adoption.  He is a grown man making a stand about his and others' lived reality in this country and any thankfulness he feels or doesn't feel about his adoption doesn't have to play into how he choses to express himself.  

Its so much better for him here than anywhere else in the world, he should be thankful and proud to be American.

Sometimes I wonder if people are really hearing themselves when they say this.  It's both an acknowledgment of racism (and its worldwide nature), and a down-playing of it.  It also shows a lack of understanding of the developed world.  Even if we remove from the equation that there are lots of great places to live in this world, telling someone that they should just suck it up because it could be worse is the opposite of empathy and progress.  The line that it could be worse has been used since the dawn of this country.  Slaves were told that at least they weren't still having to live in Africa for chrissakes.  This is not a new response and it has never been an ok one.  

This is so disrespectful to veterans.

I purposefully put this one after the last one.  There are veterans who are hurt by Colin's actions.  I'm sorry that they are hurting.  Me explaining the racist history of Francis Scott Key and the anthem itself, explaining that he didn't intend to hurt veterans, or explaining why the gesture of the singing the anthem doesn't have a direct connection to respect for veterans doesn't take away that hurt.  Facts and emotions are a messy thing to try to mix up in that way.  Colin clearly views the flag and anthem differently than some veterans do.  Its a different lens so it leads to different understandings.  Just as I want Colin's feelings and experiences validated, I believe its ok to validate the hurt veterans feel.

That being said, I do appreciate that he said he did not intend offense and have found it interesting to see the outpouring of support from many veterans on social media through the hashtag #VeteransForKaepernick.  Clearly, there are many veterans who do not take offense to Colin's protest, and in fact encourage it.










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