Anthems, Patriotism, Protests and a way forward

What started a year ago as a lone NFL player’s protest hit a fever pitch Sunday in large part because of the President Trump’s inflammatory remarks about players who kneel during the National Anthem.

I’m not sure social media is a great barometer of the nation’s emotional temperature, but if it is, Sunday was an angry day. I’m reminded on days like this that my friendship circle is colorful and diverse. You could say that my Facebook and Twitter feeds were “a hot mess” Sunday afternoon.

I have friends, mostly black, who in large part sympathize with the kneeling NFL players. Many of them have been calling for people to boycott the NFL for a longtime. They long for justice and equality and feel the protests might push the dialogue about systemic injustice and inequality into the public square.

I have friends, mostly white, who in large part are infuriated by what they feel is disrespect to the men and women who fought in the armed forces preserving the freedom we relish in. Many of them either served or have family who served in the military – some making the ultimate sacrifice. Many of them are now calling for people boycott the NFL, but for different reasons.

I’ve had dozens of conversations with people on both sides of this emotional issue. Here are a few of my personal observations:

1. It’s much easier and more common these days to talk about people than talk to people.

Most of us live our lives by the code of our experience. If you grew up in middle-class, white suburbia – you view the world through the lens of that experience. If you’re a minority and grew up in an urban context – you view the world through the lens of that experience.

Rarely do we spend enough time immersed in someone else’s reality long enough and with enough humility to get a glimpse of their viewpoints. Because our experience creates such a dominating way of thought, we seldom even consider that our viewpoint is limited and thereby incomplete.

For example: I can’t recall anyone in the media, political sphere, NFL or on social media questioning why there is such a wide chasm of opinion on the Anthem protests. Almost all that  I’ve read and heard has been conjecture. Is anyone asking why good people, who care about their communities, country, freedom and football would have such drastically different viewpoints?  Why is there such a disparity?

The problem is, you don’t need to ask why to talk about people or at people. After all, you’re convinced that you already know why.

However, life isn’t nearly as black or white as we make it out to be. Life is complicated, nuanced and ambiguous. Memes, tweets and hot takes are popular because they affirm our bias without requiring us to take the time to look at the other side.

A way forward: What if you spent time talking, in person, with 1 person whom you completely disagree with on a controversial subject? Better yet, talk with 1 person for every news article, meme or post you share that affirms your viewpoint.

2. It’s easier to make a point than it is to make a difference.

Activism has become cheap. You don’t have to get messy or uncomfortable when signing a petition, donating $5 or liking your favorite celebrity, athlete or politicians quotes online. It doesn’t take a lot of courage to make a few keystrokes and hit “post”. Waxing eloquent to your buddy with the exact same viewpoint as you about all the problems you see with a group of people doesn’t cost you anything. Making a difference is long, arduous and patient work. It will cost you something significant.

A way forward:  Volunteer for an organization that is trying to remedy the root cause of an issue you care about. Frustrated by government entitlements? Mentor a kid at a school with student populations below the poverty line. Angered by police brutality? Serve your local law enforcement officers.

Note: If you’re a Christian, Jesus said that if you want to live in accordance with His kingdom, you must love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:43-48) Application: Can’t stand Donald Trump? Then pray for him. Can’t stand Barak Obama? Did you pray for him? If not, repent.

3. Most of us think our point is the most important point.

Support the protests? Consider this: When you have experienced oppression, inequality and a lack of respect, the tendency will be to fight for those things, even at the expense of others. When a Vietnam veteran, who lost comrades in war, was mocked and spit upon after coming home from serving his country explains that kneeling for the National Anthem is offensive to him, you can’t merely brush off the offense as “not being about the military”.  If the Confederate flag is a symbol of hate, slavery and oppression to you, then the American flag most certainly can be a symbol of freedom and blood shed for it to veterans and their families.  If the display of Confederate soldier statues is an affront to your sensibilities, then kneeling for the Anthem can be the same for others.

Oppose the protests? Consider this: Whenever you leverage your platform (Facebook, your small group, business associates etc.) to criticize “entitled, millionaire athletes” and proclaim that you “don’t want to hear their opinions and political viewpoints”, do you know what you are doing? The exact same thing they are doing. You can’t be for the 1st Amendment and at the same time assign a dollar figure and level of fame that negates it for some.  Most Vietnam veterans that I know still struggle with feelings of anger and betrayal because of how they were treated when they came home from serving their country. It’s a historic scar. I’ve never once thought, “Get over it!” How utterly insensitive that would be! There is no way I could think that if I walked in their shoes.  Let us not forget that during the same time period of the Vietnam war, the Civil Rights Movement bloomed and eventually, in 1964 the Civil Right Act abolished legal discrimination on the basis of race, including the final desegregation of schools. My parents, aunts and uncles were in Elementary and Junior High School during this historic time. My point is simply that it wasn’t that long ago. The pain of racism still stings. Despite our significant advances, racism still exists. When we dismiss the anger and hurt of those who have experienced racism or the consequences of it, we reopen wounds.

A way forward: We should raise our voices on behalf of the marginalized. However, we shouldn’t shout down other marginalized groups to get a leg up.  The important issue that Colin Kaepernick was trying to raise is getting lost in all the yelling and shouting about whose point is most important. If I had any influence, which I admittedly have none, I’d recommend NFL players wanting to rightly express their viewpoints do so through a different avenue.  No one wins an argument by simply yelling louder. Resolution requires humility and understanding on both sides. At the same time, I’d be slow to jump to the anti-American rhetoric toward those who do protest. They may just be supporting a friend who was called “son of a bitch” by a bully.

4. America is truly unique.

You can protest by kneeling or by canceling your DirectTV Sunday NFL ticket without any legal recourse from governing authorities. I’ve spent time in countries where dissent is only spoken of in hushed voices to those you explicitly trust.  God Bless America.

A way forward: I truly believe most of us have more in common that we realize. More good is being done than we know. Justice and equality are important to many of us. We should spend less time online and less time watching cable news and more time participating together for the good of our neighbors and community.

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