I’m always perplexed when we as a country are faced with a situation such as the Colin Kaepernick tumult. We seem to split into two distinct camps, one which applauds the man or woman (or group) involved as heroic, and another that decries the situation as a moral failing, often holding up what they deem as a ‘real’ hero in a sort of a ‘take that’ rebuttal.
There’s more than one way to be a hero. We are better as a world for having an abundance of heroes, some deemed small in stature while others tower over us as guiding lights illuminating the path to our better selves. Every one of them brings us to a more perfect place.
My question: can’t we have more than one kind of hero? More than one shining light at the same time? I sure as hell hope so, because we seem to be in a place that needs all the heroes we can get. We can hold up a man such as Kaepernick without in any measure diluting the greatness of another hero, be they a Marine who gave his life in service, or a child who manned a lemonade stand only to donate the proceeds to feed the less fortunate.
My take on this is simple: the truth is often ugly, and in such ugliness many people do not want to be forced to look at their own prejudices. When we honor Kaepernick, we are also admitting that our systems (be they legal or otherwise) are broken. There is in us – at least in white people – a persistent fight against the awful truth of our systemic racism. Shooting a teen in the back as he turns to run is unacceptable. That anyone having read the previous sentence intuitively and automatically assumes the word ‘teen’ found there means a black youth? Well, that is unforgiveable.
We can do better. We must do better.
When a racist serves as leader of any group, then racism is given a sick legitimacy. In such a situation, some people interpret such legitimacy to mean that their own racism has an acceptable place in the public sphere. From society’s dais, they see themselves and their beliefs given a broad stamp of approval, and they go about sowing the seeds of bigotry with a pent-up fervor that in quantum leaps undoes the previously hard-won gains in relation to fairness and equality.
That when we hear of a youth having been killed when brandishing a cell phone, or that an unarmed man in his own home was shot by a law officer who’d mistakenly entered the wrong apartment, and our mind goes immediately to the word ‘black’, then we are failing in our ideals as a country.
A Marine who throws himself in harm’s way and likely saves the lives of six of his comrades, yes, he undoubtedly is a hero. We rightfully and respectfully pay homage. But cannot Colin Kaepernick, in peacefully championing our need to change police policies and societal norms, be a hero in that he is saving an untold amount of lives that would otherwise be lost to unnecessary violence? Is that not worth his peaceful protest? Isn’t Nike’s corporate involvement in shining a focused light on the subject a good thing?
They’re telling us we can do better. I say we must do better.
To honor Kaepernick for putting his career on the line is not done to dishonor any single person. And let’s be clear, in today’s climate of overt racism, the man has also put his life in some jeopardy. More than a few folks view the saga of ‘taking a knee’ as treasonous, so the idea of someone attempting to physically harm Kaepernick is not outside any realm of possibility.
I’ll honor heroes in any shape or form they appear. Heroes help to guide us to a better place, providing benchmarks that both enlighten and give hope. I’ll not apologize for supporting those who choose to kneel at football games, just as I’ll not apologize for calling out racism and its purveyors wherever they appear. I’m looking at you, Mr. President, and the many enablers of your party.