September 25th, 1957 was the day that the Little Rock 9 began their first day of school in Little Rock, Arkansas. Back then, people of color were told to know their place, to be grateful for what they had been given and that this is not the appropriate time or place to protest.
Today is September 25th, 2017 and we are reeling because a group of people of color chose to exercise their 1st Amendment right and now they are being told they should know their place, to be grateful for what they have been given and that this is not the appropriate time or place to protest.
So if 1957 wasn’t the appropriate time for people of color to protest and again it’s wrong in 2017, I ask my fellow white Americans two questions:
- When is the appropriate time for people of color to protest?
- Why do they need your permission to protest?
Let that sink in for a moment. Feel the anger and rage and the sadness. I can hear you now behind your keyboard of rage. How dare I make such a statement and ask such loaded questions?! Can you believe the disrespect those entitled athletes showed our nation? Our soldiers? Our children? And now you want to make this about me…about white people?!
Breathe in, breathe out and stay with me because I’m not going to attack you or your love of the flag or your love for our nation. But I want you to really think this through.
Our President calls HIS American citizens who are peacefully protesting, “sons of bitches” but now is NOT the time to protest.
Our President calls white supremacists “very fine people” but THAT wasn’t the right time to protest.
White supremacists stormed a neighborhood in Charlottesville, Virginia but THAT wasn’t the right time to protest.
Philando Castile was shot dead in front of his girlfriend and baby but THAT wasn’t the right time to protest either.
I could go on and on and on and on. But instead, I’ll ask again, when is the right time to protest and why does anyone need your permission to protest?
The answer is clear. There is no convenient time to protest because it’s real and it’s ugly and it evokes feelings we don’t want to discuss. But we have to discuss these issues if we actually want to unite the country. The President CLEARLY is NOT going to do it for us. The NFL is not going to do it for us. Yelling at one another in the comments section on Facebook or retweeting sarcastic puns is NOT going to do it for us.
There is no simple solution to this complex crap-show we’ve created but here are a few practical ways we can all get real and get over ourselves in an effort to make things a little bit better.
We have to put in the work and have real discussions with people we love, with people from different backgrounds and with people who we just might disagree.
I called my brother this morning to get his perspective on the situation. He’s a veteran and I appreciate his service to our nation and also respect his opinion. We often have very different reactions to news events but we’ve always maintained an open and conflict-free discussion and I value that relationship so much.
After having our normal catch up call about crazy children, stressful family members and general nuances I asked him what he thought about the players decision to kneel for the national anthem. He told me after seeing the terrible living conditions for millions of people living in the Middle East, he had difficulty understanding why the players feel this country is so bad. He admitted freely that we are not a perfect nation and that there is work to be done but he felt the form of protest was not appropriate.
I asked him further about his feelings as a veteran and he said it made him really sad. He felt that his service, on the front lines of a gruesome war were being dismissed by the protesters actions. He said he fought for the flag and the flag might mean more to him than other American civilians but he still felt disrespected and hurt by their choice of protest.
And then it hit me and I said, “but what if that’s the point? What if their protest causes you to feel sadness or others to feel anger? What if that’s the point? They’ve made you feel the same emotion they’re struggling with day after day in this country. Maybe they want their flag to mean as much to people of color as it does to a soldier.”
In the end of our conversation we didn’t convert one another but our views were both expanded just a bit and my respect for him is greater now than ever.
Surrounding ourselves with people who have our same experiences and share our same beliefs does NOTHING to increase our understanding of the full story of America. It only makes our viewpoint more narrow.
If you really want to change this nation, ask a friend over for a beer and have an open conversation. Find a friend on your social media page with a different political viewpoint, I promise it won’t be hard and ask them out for coffee. Engage in a conversation to share viewpoints but not change each others minds. Its a small step that could really help. If we don’t start in our own communities, things will never change.
Just because you don’t understand someone’s anger, sadness or protest, doesn’t make it invalid.
Protesting is about as American as apple pie and baseball. Protesting is patriotism in action. If you’re feeling angry or confused by someone’s protest, try listening to their core beliefs rather than raining judgement down upon them. My Dad always said, “God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason.” I’m feeling like we should all use both ears and bite our lips for a while.
It’s not our job to change someone’s opinion but it is our job to listen.
If we want to change the culture of our country, it is our job to try to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. It is our also our right to walk away the end of a discussion by saying, “I don’t agree with your perspective but I appreciate you sharing your experiences.” It’s that simple. People want to be heard. And valued. And treated with respect. All of us. Not just veterans, not just people of color, ALL of us want to be valued and heard.
Perhaps those who protest the national anthem aren’t weakening our flag, perhaps they are challenging the very fabric of the flag and the soul of our nation. What does our flag stand for if it doesn’t represent equality for ALL Americans?