I very much appreciate Nate Boyer’s open letter to Colin Kaepernick, the football player making waves on account of not standing during the National Anthem. I actually appreciate it even more that there are some unedited, tone-deaf statements in his missive (such as when he writes “I hate that at times I feel guilty for being white”) because it makes the whole thing more honest, more human. More importantly, it’s an opportunity for an actual dialogue, because he doesn’t condemn Kaepernick’s right not to stand. He admits that he doesn’t understand what it’s like
to deal with prejudice because of the color of my skin, and for me to say I can relate to what you’ve gone through is as ignorant as someone who’s never been in a combat zone telling me they understand what it’s like to go to war.
What he does, instead, is to express why he stands, and what that means for him. The cynic might say that he’s just attempting to shame or guilt Kaepernick into standing, but the optimist–which I’m trying to be these days–hears the other people standing (or, I guess, sitting) with Kaepernick when they note that respect is earned. There are a lot of people who, whether they’re better off and more “free” here than in Darfur, are at best systematically being disrespected and have chosen a non-violent way to call attention to that. (Shaun King’s on to something when he asks, in the Post, how exactly people are supposed to complain, and hits the nail on the head when he notes that they’re not–unless they’re white, in which case they should be running for President.)
Those on Fox News who claim that Kaepernick should be grateful to this country because it’s no longer overtly enslaving him (such a high bar to hit) should ask themselves if they’d really be “grateful” to a university that gave them a free ride if, every day, that college not only did nothing to protect them from the other students who resented them, but actually punished him for speaking out against the injustice.
I was once bullied, but that’s not why this whole story resonates with me. No, what gets me is that I don’t stand for the national anthem, and that’s never really been questioned. Granted, I’m not a public figure, and it’s tough even for a white politician to avoid a question about a missing flag pin, but I’m pretty sure that this just comes down to privilege. I don’t even have something to really protest–I would just rather celebrate America, and all it represents, by taking advantage of the fact that I live in a country that does not force people to swear oaths of loyalty, or to kowtow to overlords, or to convert to a specific religion, or wear a specific uniform. So that’s why it kills me to recognize that we’re not all free to voice dissent. And that should shame all of us.