I have been told many times that I look Italian, Hispanic, Greek and Brazilian. A few years ago I asked my maternal grandfather, “What exactly am I?”
He replied, “American.”
I told him he misunderstood what I was asking and he told me whatever question I had, “American” is the answer.
My maternal grandfather fought in the U.S. Navy and my paternal grandfather in the U.S. Army. Growing up they both made sure I knew that I was privileged to be American. Yet I am not one to vilify NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick for his decision to sit or kneel during the National Anthem in protest against the oppression of blacks in this country. However, I am frustrated by the situation.
As a white female I can’t tell you exactly what racism is like in this country but I can tell you with complete certainty that it exists.
I remember my freshman year of college I fell in love with my then boyfriend who is black. An acquaintance felt the need to give me some perspective on the situation.
During a conversation about how much I liked my boyfriend, he asked me, “Do you really want to do that to your children?”
I responded, “Do what to what children?”
He whispered, “You know... make them black.”
Keep in mind I was 18 . My biggest worry at the time was making sure I could get to some party at a trendy nightclub on Tuesday night and still make it to class at 9 a.m. Wednesday morning. Children were the furthest thing from my mind. Still, the statement infuriated me.
I told him, “If the children I don’t yet have are raised in a house with lots of love, they will be just fine.”
This person tried to explain to me that he did not harbor any hate towards anyone but he was simply realistic about the extreme challenges of being black in this country.
He was right. It’s not easy.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Report, in 2014 47 percent of hate crimes were racially motivated. In 2015 The Washington Post reported that black men were seven times more likely than white men to be killed by police gunfire while unarmed. The Bureau of Labor looked at the unemployment rates by race from 1975-2010 and blacks consistently had the highest rates of unemployment.
The numbers don’t lie. In America there are challenges associated with being black.
Kaepernick’s focus appears to be the recent string of police shootings that resulted in the deaths of unarmed black men. But the conversations are being dominated by WHAT he is doing as opposed to WHY he is doing it.
My biggest concern with the situation is that it’s creating more hate between two sides on an issue that can only be solved by people coming together.
I understand why Kaepernick is being vilified by some for his actions. While the country is not perfect, it is a place that provides a lot of opportunities, albeit more for some than others. As a woman, I can make a career as a sports reporter and men of any race can get paid a lot of money to play football. There is freedom. There are men and women who sacrifice their lives to try and ensure our safety. The aforementioned reality is a gift, not a given in this world.
Kaepernick has said repeatedly that he appreciates and respects our troops and our veterans and the sacrifices they’ve made for this country. He has promised to donate $1 million to various communities. However, by not standing during the National Anthem many say he is failing, intentionally or unintentionally, to respectfully acknowledge the good that this country provides its citizens and the sacrifices made to do so. Thus to some, Kaepernick’s actions are antagonistic as opposed to righteous.
However, the focus should not be on how one man - right or wrong - is trying to express his frustrations on a national issue. It should be addressing the root of the problem, which is that many of this country’s citizens are hurting because of racial inequality.
This is a country that pledges liberty and justice for all. Many frustrated men and women in this nation want all the rights that this country has fought to possess and soldiers have lost their lives to obtain to truly be afforded to all its citizens. According to statistics that’s currently not the case.
Is an NFL quarterback sitting or kneeling in protest during the National Anthem going to make change happen?
Maybe, maybe not.
Is there a best way or even a good way to to force a discussion on a topic a lot of people have previously dismissed?
If there is, I wish I knew it.
What I do know is that it’s one man’s choice on how to express his frustrations and try to catalyze change.
Personally, when the National Anthem is played, I always stand, as I am thankful for the life this country has afforded me. That doesn’t mean I am sitting down on wrongs that I think should be made right. I just choose a different way to express it, including this column.
As I look to the future and think about creating a family, I hold hope that one day the only thing I, along with rest of the country, will worry about “making” our children ... is happy.
For this to happen we must shift our focus away from whether or not Kaepernick is right or wrong and pay more attention to why so many are angry.
The discussion needs to be about the problem not the protest.
The problem is that we are divided: black, white, police officer or civilian. The current conversations about how people are protesting are only furthering that division. The solution is not in our disagreements but in what unites us all. This country pledges equality for all its citizens, so as we tackle this tough and polarizing issue we must remember, like my grandfather said, whatever the question, “American,” is the answer.