Colin Kaepernick and the importance of the grey area

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“People don’t realize what’s really going on in this country. There are a lot things that are going on that are unjust. People aren’t being held accountable. And that’s something that needs to change. That’s something that this country stands for: freedom, liberty and justice for all. And it’s not happening for all right now.”

–Colin Kaepernick

You are either right or wrong. That is how society tends to operate and judge. The grey area is rarely examined, questioned or explored. But that is what I want to do. On August 26, one of the San Francisco 49er’s quarterbacks, Colin Kaepernick, kneeled during the National Anthem in protest of the racial injustices gaining attention nationwide.

Was he right or wrong?

To be completely honest, I cannot decide. Even though we live in a world where indecisiveness is shamed, and seeing both sides of the story is a social-death sentence, I cannot decide.

I come from a very patriotic family. I am a daughter of a retired Navy Corpsman who served over twenty years and took part in Desert Storm. My grandfather served in the Army. Veterans, freedom and this country hold a very special place in my heart and always will. Even though America may not be perfect, my love for it does not waiver. So when I heard that a football player, who makes millions of dollars a year and has benefited immensely from this country, kneeled during the National Anthem, I became angry, sad and very much disappointed.

(Photo courtesy of Karsun Designs on Flickr Creative Commons)
(Photo courtesy of Karsun Designs on Flickr Creative Commons)

Then I considered Kaepernick’s very real motivation for kneeling. It is true, there are too many problems occurring in America today, and it is frightening. This country, built on democracy and independence, is seeing a resurgence of racism and hatred at a horrific rate. Kaepernick wants to talk about it—he wants to open the door for discussion and put himself out there to do so. For that reason, I respect him. For the reason of shining light on a demon that no one wants to look at or confront, I respect him.

Yet I still feel the urge to shake my head at the execution of his protest. Why?

What is the function of a football game? Why do we have them? Well, many agree that we have sports, like Football, because they are sources of entertainment. People pay hundreds of dollars to go to a football game in order to escape the news, work and monotony of everyday life.

So you can imagine why a lot of people were so upset by Kaepernick’s action, because they did not want to be reminded of everything that is going wrong in our nation. They went to get away from that, to support their team and to have fun. On top of that, the National Anthem alone is a moment of unity. Its function is to remind people of how this country was fought for and earned. It is two-and-a-half-minutes of what is supposed to be unity between the living and solemn respect for those that died for America. Kaepernick interrupted the flow of an atmosphere that is supposed to be patriotic and uplifting with a protest reminding everyone of how our unity is fraying at the seams.

But that is what he wanted. A protest is supposed to shake people and wake them up. It is supposed to bring attention to problems that need to be addressed—and that is certainly what Kaepernick did. If there ever was a moment to really get under the skin of millions of Americans in the name of todays problems, he picked the right one.

However, what makes this protest particularly complex is that it took place during a moment of unity, and its affects are not directly measurable. If someone kneels while everyone else is standing, what does that action portray about that person (regardless of why they are actually doing it)? It says they are not a part of the group. They are purposely removing theirself from the whole. However, in Kaepernick’s defense, he did so in solidarity with many people who never felt like a part of this nation in the first place, people who have been discriminated against their entire lives. In a strange way, it seems like he was protesting discrimination, which is disunity, by separating himself from the group during a time set aside for unity.

(Photo courtesy of Curt Johnson on Flickr Creative Commons)
(Photo courtesy of Curt Johnson on Flickr Creative Commons)

Do you see now why there is more grey area in this than just right or wrong?

No one likes the person who blatantly disregards unity, who kneels when everyone else is standing. It seems like they are sending the message that they do not want to be a part of the family, and in this case, that family is America. However, what if they kneeled for all the people who never felt like a part of the American family in the first place?

Here is a piece of truth:

Before Kaepernick began kneeling, I did not know, nor really even care, about Colin Kaepernick.

Here is another truth:

After Kaepernick began kneeling, I still do not care about Colin Kaepernick. I am not a football fan, and in terms of his career (not him as a person in general), I do not really care about Kaepernick. I do not wake up in the morning hoping he plays well in games, nor do I think about him specifically even when talking about kneeling during the National Anthem.

But I do care about this country, and that includes all of its problems and flaws. So I was intrigued with this story, not because it involved football or a quarterback protesting, but because it riled up so many of my fellow citizens and emphasized the boundaries that divide our nation. I am writing this piece, not as a plea to follow or a rally to dislike Colin Kaepernick, because at the end of the day, he is not the person this is about.

I chose to write this piece because I wanted to remind you that unity is important, and not just during the National Anthem. America is powerful when its citizens are together. The question is not whether you support a football player who kneels during the National Anthem or not. The question is what you believe America stands for, and whether you think we are achieving that meaning.

For me, America stands for equality and justice. But do we have it when so many people, both people of color and cops alike, are being killed senselessly? When rapists can get off scot-free, but their victims have to live a lifetime with emotional and physical trauma?

America stands for freedom. But do we have it when social, economic and political structures dictate the status quo for citizens instead of the other way around?

(Photo courtesy of Colin Gordon on Flickr Creative Commons)
(Photo courtesy of Colin Gordon on Flickr Creative Commons)

America stands for democracy. But do we have it when our government is torn between two presidential candidates, neither of which anyone one seems to truly want as our leader? Do we have it when our government is filled with politicians more concerned with their own bank accounts than actually solving our nation’s problems?

Do I still love America? Hell yes. And I will continue to pledge my allegiance and stand during the National Anthem. Because, for me, showing unity and pride for what America truly stands for, during a time of division, is more powerful than adding to that division. That being said, I do believe there are great issues concerning political and social inequities within our country. I even have my own plans to give effort in helping diminish these issues one day.

No, America is not perfect right now—but when was it ever? Our country has worked through injustices and problems before; we can most certainly do it again, and strive to go even further this time.

I may not agree with how Colin Kaepernick executed his protest, but as a fellow American citizen, I am not going to cast him to the shadows.

Kaepernick and I want the same thing: no more black and white.

Give us the grey area.

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