OPINION COLUMNS

Practice empathy instead of passing judgment

By Racey Burden | Published Saturday, September 24, 2016
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Colin Kaepernick was my fantasy football quarterback for two years, and he did all right. I eventually replaced him with Cam Newton. But what he’s doing now, in real life, outside of football, is far more important.

He’s started something. He sat during the national anthem in protest of black citizens being shot in the streets by police, and that action became more symbolic of Kaepernick’s place in our culture today than his entire football career.

Racey Burden

Racey Burden

Most people I know vehemently disagree with his actions. They cite his protest as an act of disrespect toward our country, to the men and women who serve in the military – to which I might point out that Kaepernick himself has said he switched from sitting during the anthem to kneeling as a gesture of respect to those in service (also, many veterans on Twitter supported him with the hashtag “veterans for Kaepernick.” I recommend reading those tweets).

I really don’t understand why everyone is so upset. I recall these same people who now hate Kaepernick trashing the Black Lives Matter movement because they perceived it as “too violent.” But then we have a truly peaceful protest – Kaepernick certainly isn’t hurting anything other than his knees by kneeling during the anthem – and everyone loses their mind.

It makes me wonder – and this is a question for my fellow white citizens – what is he, or any person of color, supposed to do in this type of situation? They see injustice (and there is injustice – as I’ve said before, you can support good police officers and still see there’s a systemic racial bias that causes bad officers to react violently toward black people), they try to protest, they get criticized and belittled no matter what they do. They can’t seem to win.

Kaepernick is in a public position, and whether you like it or not, he can use that position to bring causes to national attention. Donald Trump uses his public position to bring attention to terribly racist world-views all the time, and most of my Facebook wall is silent on that account – or they say, “freedom of speech.” That doesn’t apply to Kaepernick, too?

Blind national pride doesn’t have a place in this protest. Kaepernick has said he’ll stand when our flag represents freedom for all – isn’t that what we’re supposed to fight for anyway? If you love something, like this country, shouldn’t you want to fix it when it’s broken? Again, this is all for the white people here, because we seem to be the ones not getting it – maybe the first step to healing this divide is actually listening to the people who don’t have the same life experiences we do.

I’d like for people of color to feel safe, to feel like they’re equally important American citizens. I’d like for Colin Kaepernick to be able to stand during the national anthem again. I’d like for our flag to stand for all Americans, and until it does, maybe we all should take a knee.

Racey Burden is a Messenger reporter.

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