In lieu of the beginning of a new NFL season, Colin Kaepernick’s protest of not standing during the national anthem is another opportunity for Americans to ignore progressive race relations and get upset about someone standing up (or in this case now kneeling) against systemic oppression and it’s impact. I’m not going to belabor the points made from the different perspectives and whether or not you agree with Colin’s stance. My goal is to help student leaders and higher ed professionals explore the intersection between leadership and diversity and how we can use this intersection to move forward.
Colin is now faced with an interesting quandary, Sunday marks the 15th anniversary of September 11, 2001. It is also the first Sunday of the NFL season. Will Kaepernick continue to his protest? Will other players continue to join in? What’s interesting is that a lot of people still believe that his kneeling is unpatriotic. That same faction of people also believe that if Kaepernick continues his protest on 9/11 then he is disrespecting the lives lost in the terrible tragedy.
My question about that is: If you publicly shun the ugly truths of the country does that automatically disrespect the country and those that have fought for it?
Colin decided not to stand during the national anthem (and is continuing not to stand) because he is not proud of the past and current oppressions of blacks and other minorities in this country. People burned his jersey, called him ugly names, and told to him shut up. Those were obvious and evident on social media. What I am wondering is, how many of the people that disagreed with what he did (and what he’s doing), actually took time to think about what he said?
This matters for 2 reasons: (1) As an educator, parent, or active American citizen the outrage because of his actions should paint a very clear picture: Collectively America will never be ready for the race talk. In 2016 race is still a squeamish topic for many white Americans. As soon as Kaepernick protests because of obvious past and present atrocities he is called every type of ‘n’ word. Irony or Patriotism? (2) This matters because some of your students will want to protest during their academic career for something that the majority will not want them to.
Unfortunately, there will be more and more occurrences this school year that will highlight racial injustices and inequities. Students will protest and do things that will cause a rift on campus. Whenever you are faced with a student or students protesting I have a simple 4 step process you should consider going through before you involve your emotions.
You may categorically be against what the student protesting stands for or not even understand why they are upset, but taking the 4 steps outlined above will allow you to take a step back emotionally and just be there. Recognize there is a problem they are having. It may not be your problem, but it is their problem, so at least recognize and acknowledge it. Next, accept that it is legitimately their problem or a cause they believe in. Then console them, let them know that you care about them, and want to see them feel and do better. Finally, educate yourself on the issue at hand with the most objective information you can find. Perhaps you were uninformed or just not knowledgeable about the subject at hand. Getting objective information from other sources allows you to step back and decide where you stand on their issue. This is the exact process that former Green Beret and NFL player Nate Boyer did. Initially he was upset but he recognized there was a problem, accepted that he couldn’t empathize with Colin, but he could sympathize with him by consoling him, and then he educated himself. See his story by clicking here.
If America would collectively use this 4 step issue on issues such as slavery, Jim Crow, the war on drugs, segregation, gentrification, and other things then perhaps we could make more progress. So will Kaepernick still kneel on 15th anniversary of one of the most horrific events in recent history? I have no idea. But if he does kneel, take a step back and use the 4 step process. Life is all about expression and we all express our emotions differently.
You can start this right now where you are even before the issue arises. Especially if you are reading this and you are white or you think racism is not a big deal. Use the 4 step formula with this issue or another one. Help empower your students to make a change. I look forward to seeing the progress you help start.
What are you doing to open up the the talk? This generation can help move things forward. We will be leading more discussions this school year. If you are interested please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time, let’s impact progress!