A few thoughts on “Colin Kaepernick and Non-violent Civil Disobedience”

I wrote a draft originally of an essay here at this blog on Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the “Star-Spangled Banner” before football games. The full piece has now been published over at Medium.com in The Coffeelicious, one of the premiere original Medium e-zines out there. You can read the whole piece here.

It starts out as follows: “San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is following his conscience by not standing for the national anthem before football games. I get exactly what’s going on here and I am glad that our national “conversation” on race is being pushed harder than people want by someone with at least a bit of influence.”

I have been disturbed ever since the violence we saw in Ferguson, Missouri about how people who want to see more social and environmental justice in this country are coping with their frustration. Overt anger, violence, hatred, and aggressive intolerance — no matter how seemingly justified — have been proven time and time again to be ineffective if you want true change.

It’s also clear to me that marching in the streets and making a spectacle of yourself in Washington, D.C. is only marginally effective at best. So how does one raise the stakes of communication and force people to pay attention to something in a way that sticks in their craw — or “rocks the boat” as I say in my essay. Ask Colin Kaepernick. The is civil disobedience, of course — non-violent civil disobedience to be exact.

You laugh. What’s one measly, adopted, mixed race twenty-eight year old really going to accomplish? Even if he is an overpaid quarterback (now second string) in the NFL. And yet, so far, it actually seems like he’s pushed harder than anyone who has used violence or foamed at the mouth with hatred and “us vs. them” rhetoric.

There’s no doubt Kaepernick’s face-off with America came out of left field and confused a lot of people. Initial responses by people, even within the Black Community, were all over the place. But that’s to be expected. Most of us are pretty freaking knee-jerk as a matter of course these days. We’re also incredibly confused and precious (liberals and conservatives). Fortunately, once you open your mouth and have an opinion, it forces you to think about whether you’re actually right or wrong about what you said (even Donald Trump is finding this out). So people are at least thinking now about what Colin is doing and they will continue to think (a few will continue to freak out) as the 2016 football season goes forward.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I do want to put in a word from all us mixed race adopted types in deep personal support of Colin Kaepernick. Mixed race people in general have a very unique and important perspective on race issues in this country. No one is really allowed to talk about that, but it’s true. And those of us who are mixed race and adopted, especially if we’re adopted into one of the specific tribes of color but have a hard time fully identifying singularly with that tribe, have an even more unique perspective on race. We can’t help feeling like we stand apart from most of the rest of you. We try hard to be friends with everyone. In some ways we are defined by the need to be loved because at our cores we feel how singular and separate we are from everyone — which, of course, in reality is how everyone feels because that’s the existential reality of life in the universe.

Talking about being mixed race and adopted is very personal, I know. Sorry. It’s just that it’s really hard to watch systemic racism and discrimination happen over and over and over again, when we know that most good people in this country don’t want The System to hurt others in their names. We know, too, that the police aren’t killing kids because cops are evil. We understand that they’re scared and that they’re just doing the best they can given the insane situations they find themselves in over and over. But we also know that violence begets violence and that looking for a fight often creates a fight. We know as well that thinking racially is a default for people in tense situations — doesn’t matter your heritage.

In my Coffeelicious piece, I predict that others will be joining Colin Kaepernick on the bench real soon if we don’t start moving on the issues he is so upset about. I think this all started really getting nutso when our nation began disinvesting in schools and the police in about 2010 as federal stimulus money ran out after the Great Recession. Of course, we haven’t been paying cops well for eons and teachers have been getting the short end of the stick since at least 1980 when Ronald Reagan and William Bennett started to directly attack the public education system.

So many people feel that Kaepernick’s protest is disrespectful of the flag, and by extension of the men and women of the armed forces — and the nation as a whole. Donald Trump’s response was classic: “I think it’s personally not a good thing, I think it’s a terrible thing. And, you know, maybe he should find a country that works better for him. Let him try, it won’t happen.” The thing is, Kaepernick isn’t protesting the flag (besides, Old Glory is one tough enchilada), or the military, or even the nation as a whole. I assure you, he loves this country. What he is protesting is our hypocrisy as a nation and our lethargy and unwillingness to acknowledge that we can indeed solve problems of racism if we want to. We need better trained, smarter, and more competent community policing, especially in our urban hot spots (that means a lot more money, I know). Cops and citizens need to spend more time talking and problem solving and less time being enemies. That, again, is an example of default, tense thinking. It’s sloppy, dumb, and pointless. And it’s why innocent (and not so innocent) people keep getting killed.

We also need to double our funding to inner city and other low income school districts. That may mean more taxes — especially of the wealthy. But it also means each of us stepping up and voting for local, state, and national representatives who are actually committed to making better communities and more functional local economies.

I’d go on, but I’m sure you’ve had enough. Go read my article at The Coffeelicious and give it some love. Maybe comment there. You can comment here too. You can comment even if you think I’m full of shit or don’t know what I’m talking about. That’s fine. Get it out. The more you commit to your opinion the more you will question yourself. And the closer to truth we’ll all find ourselves –perverse as that may seem.

See the full press conference Colin did in the last weekend of August below. His patience and straight-up responses are pretty impressive … and should be studied by all young rebels.


Also published on Medium.

6 Comments

  • Thomas Joswick Posted September 7, 2016 1:46 pm

    Great essay, David. I have always thought that teachers and policemen should be paid at least 50% above where they are now. In a generation there would be measurable changes in quite a few venues, I believe.

    Re: your comment on Nixon …Funny…I was just yesterday reviewing the list of our bad past presidents and wishing any one of them could run in this election!

    • davidbiddle Posted September 8, 2016 1:35 pm

      I think about Nixon a lot these days and wonder what he would think of his party. I think he would probably agree with your idea that teachers and police should be paid more too, especially police.

  • danbenbow Posted September 8, 2016 9:53 am

    David,

    Thank you for speaking out in your usual sane, thoughtful voice on an issue you understand in a personal way that few people can.

    Though you’re right that we won’t solve these problems by talking past one another and name-calling/casting aspersions, as with so many issues (climate change being a great example), the root problem seems to be that a big portion of the US public (which happens to be overwhelmingly white in this case) flat-out don’t grasp important facts about race issues or simply won’t face up to America’s ugly past–and the way this past plays out in the present.

    Concrete examples of institutional racism abound in just about every facet of American life, sociologists and psychologists understand that the subjugation of black Americans for centuries has negatively impacted inner city residents to this day, Reagan’s war on drugs has decimated inner city families and communities, and yet, many white conservatives (most?) fall back on ‘why don’t they just pull themselves up by their bootstraps?’ thinking.

    Faced with this level of denial, where one side of the debate has such a poor grasp of history, we can’t have much of a dialogue. The only way this problem will work itself out–to the extent that it ever does–is through demographic change and painfully slow social evolution, as conservative Baby Boomers die off, to be replaced by progressive Millenials and a higher portion of Americans of color. Call me cynical, but I really don’t think we can expect good will and reason to win out in a country where Donald Trump is considered a serious presidential candidate by half the population.

    • davidbiddle Posted September 8, 2016 1:40 pm

      Good thoughts Dan. For what it’s worth, I think we’ve always been a country where goodwill and reason are pitted against selfishness and thug-like behavior. The weird thing these days is that the nasty people in this country clearly acknowledge they know they are nasty and poorly informed and seem quite proud of that. It’s almost a new ‘Merican thang, like breaking bottles in parking lots and smashing mailboxes with baseball bats.

  • Gary Miranda Posted September 8, 2016 7:30 pm

    David,

    Thoughtful, even-handed essay overall. Two comments:

    “. . .if you’re not a minority, you really don’t know what it feels like to be one.”

    By the same token, if you’re not a cop, you really don’t know what it feels like to be one. When, 15 years ago, my brother-in-law cop was saving lives on 9/11 at the cost of permanent lung damage, I can assure you he was making no distinction between white lives and black lives. “Black lives matter” may be a needed reminder to some, but to the vast majority of good cops like my brother-in-law, it’s an insult.

    “. . .the country finally woke up to what a dangerous person Richard Nixon really was (although I’d gladly take him as a president over Donald Trump).”

    Comparing Trump to Nixon, and unfavorably at that, is over-the-top. Nixon was evil. Trump isn’t evil, he’s merely a buffoon. Hillary isn’t evil either, though she would doubtless try to be if a focus group told her “You need to work on being more evil.” The campaign slogan for both Trump’s and Clinton’s campaigns should be, “This message has no content.” Vote Libertarian!

    Gary

    • davidbiddle Posted September 8, 2016 8:29 pm

      Gary, your points are all well-taken. I have immense respect for police officers in so many ways. Although, it took some time there back in the 1980s as I slowly grew out of my youthful hostility towards authority and establishment power. To a large extent, I think what is going on right now with cops is partly a reflection of Millennials in that same position we were all in from the 1960s into the 1980s. This younger generation coming of age is far more diverse and tuned in than we ever were. And this postmodern America has invested in a police state mentality since the early 1980s. Chickens are coming home and someone’s gotta pick up their doo-doo.

      I hear you on Trump vs. Nixon. I see it a bit differently. Besides Nixon’s evil and Trump’s buffoonishness, there is the question of morality and judgement. I don’t see a lot of concern for doing the right thing with Trump. Nor do I have any faith in his judgement on pretty much anything. For what it’s worth, it’s very clear Hillary’s focus groups have told her she needs to work on being more severe. It’s a little scary. If she wins I hope that doesn’t carry over. Nixon was really the last “severe” president we had.

      And, nope, not gonna vote Libertarian. I feel you on that, but I was raised a liberal Missouri Democrat and that’s the way they’re going to bury me, I’m afraid.

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