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Protesting to make America great

Opinion
By Renée DeVault
Oct 06, 2017

As opinions fly and the President calls protesters in the NFL “sons of bitches” who should be fired, I can’t help but wonder if people are more upset about a lack of respect for the flag than they are about a lack of respect towards black Americans.

Now seems to be a time when people have to pick what they’re most upset about.

When people are so motivated by their anger about NFL players protesting during the national anthem that they burn their memorabilia or boycott games, they seem to be saying that they care more about their accepted version of patriotism being followed than they do about their accepted version of justice possibly being flawed.

Don’t make this protest a “national anthem protest.” That’s not what it is. It’s a protest against the treatment of black people in America. Also, don’t make this protest about “NFL unity” and get lost in the discussion about individual rights to protest. Make it about exposing the disunity that led to the problem in the first place and the individual rights to feel protected by and safe around this country’s law enforcement.

Now some people would argue, “There’s no problem though! It’s a false narrative! Police brutality is a myth fabricated by the mainstream media!”

Okay cool, let’s talk about that.

There’s not enough space in this article to get into a debate about what is and isn’t police brutality, what is and isn’t systemic racism and what is and isn’t fabrication by the media. And for this discussion that’s okay.

Because it doesn’t matter.

It literally doesn’t matter at all.

When a friend comes and tells you that they feel belittled, not respected, not treated fairly and not safe, getting into a debate with them over the validity of their fears is not what you do. It doesn’t matter what is happening in their life. If something is making them feel that way, you want it to stop. You want some form of protection in place for them.

Even if we pretend for a moment that every single reported and unreported case of police brutality against black people can be entirely and justifiably explained away, it wouldn’t matter much to this discussion. There are people who are feeling unheard, unrepresented and unsafe—things people should never have to feel because of the color of their skin.

Advocating for additional training for police officers and more accountability only has upsides. The worst case scenario is all this fuss leads to better trained, more accountable police officers for no reason. The best case scenario is countless lives are saved and justice is granted for those who are unjustly killed.

I’m good with those odds.

Maybe you agree with the cause but not the when and where. To that I have to ask like so many others right now, “When are black people allowed to protest?”

The Black Lives Matter movement, which was started largely out of the same circumstances as Kaepernick’s protests, got crucified for being too violent, too disruptive, and not done at the right place or time.

Kaepernick’s protest is nonviolent, nondisruptive and was even amended to be more respectful to the military. He is a football player, but he is also a public figure. NFL games were the biggest platform he was given, and he chose to use that for what he believes is right.

Calling these protestors unpatriotic is a misunderstanding of their intentions. When your friend gets neck-deep in a self-destructive habit and you continue to call them out on it, what do they often do? They call you a bad friend. They say that it’s none of your business and it’s okay to hold that opinion, but not to make it their problem, and not to bring it up when the two of you should just be having fun.

But if you love your friend you press the issue anyway.

When you love the friend, you calmly, and during a time when you think you can make them listen, try to hold them accountable for their actions. You don’t want to see them hurt themselves or others anymore through their behavior.

Getting called out is uncomfortable, but if America is going to be great, it needs to realize that criticism is good. When something in the nation is toxic, being protested is the best possible antidote for it.

We are not required to stand for the national anthem, and I thank God for that. Forced patriotism sounds like a terrifying page torn from the manual of dictators and oppressive coercive politicians. We should all be celebrating the fact that not standing for the national anthem is okay.

Advocating for universal standing for the anthem upon threat of being fired or “going against the president” is far less patriotic.

The answer to “When are black people allowed to protest?” should be simple.

Whenever they want to.

Nobody has to give permission, and it’s nobody’s to give anyway. People being upset at a protest does not invalidate the protest. People being upset only runs the danger of clouding the message of the protest by only talking about how people react to the protest.

Be upset. Allow this to influence your actions. Protests make people angry, that’s part of the reason they’re so effective.

But you get the choice in what you’re most upset over. I’d simply advocate that being mad at Kaepernick, the NFL or even the President is not as important as being upset over the way that black people are saying they feel.

Kaepernick’s protests may have gotten drowned in talk of the flag and “unity,” but we can give it new life with some conversational CPR. We should move this discussion back to what needs to be done to make minorities as protected and heard as they obviously deserve to be and to feel.

 

Renée DeVault

News Editor, Managing Editor - More by this author

Renée DeVault ('19) is a Bible Theology and Communications major from Olathe, Kansas. She has been a member of The Trailblazer as a reporter, news editor, and managing editor.She is also the Administrative Chaplain of MidAmerica Nazarene University.

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