By Ryan Tillman
In a time when the United States is traversing some of the most treacherous political and social territory it has seen since gaining independence, the young San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, has left many people uneasy after intentionally sitting down during the National Anthem before a recent preseason game. His purpose was simple: to raise awareness for minority oppression throughout the States. As much as I loathe any act of disrespect towards the flag, and in turn, our nation, I can sympathize with Kaepernick. I understand his frustration on such issues, but what I call to question today is, “What is the most effective way to protest?”
The Declaration of Independence states that Americans are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” to express themselves however they see fit under the law. Kaepernick, although, has gone a step further by wearing blatantly offensive socks on multiple occasions that depict pigs wearing police hats while practicing with the team. “I wore these socks, in the past, because the rogue cops that are allowed to hold positions in police departments, not only put the community in danger, but also the cops that have the right intentions in danger by creating an environment of tension and mistrust,” Kaepernick explained. This is nothing but adding fuel to the fire. By classifying policemen as barn animals who don’t have the adequate discretion to use their badge for justice, it is Kaepernick who is creating an environment of tension and mistrust.
I am not interested in arguing whether or not it is right to stand at attention for our National Anthem or support our men and women in blue; I am much more concerned with the way we communicate our beliefs. I am witnessing our historically progressive country wander from its course; we are imploding during a time of social unrest that is on its knees begging us to unify. Kaepernick is embodying what so many Americans are today: we are passionate about current issues and are willing to cause controversy at the expense of our reputation over them. We do not know how to protest to without letting our emotions become the focal point, often causing our voices to not support what we desire, but rather scold what we hate. If Kaepernick truly wants to see change, he must begin to become part of the solution instead of the problem. Public condemnation has seldom led to reconciliation. Compassion and understanding, however, have carried us through.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to attend the Student Leadership Summit here at Sewanee, where for one morning and afternoon, student leaders from a wide range of organizations on campus came together to commence the year. Young adults deriving from different backgrounds and belief systems filled the Sewanee Inn: Greek presidents, the leader of the Gender and Sexual Diversity house, Women’s Center leaders, and Sport’s Club members to name a few. A visiting speaker pushed us to truly get to know the people around us, asking questions with the potential to set the room ablaze with passion and opinion. Something immaculate proceeded: the Sewanee Inn did not burn down. What did occur was a transformation. Men and women who in some respects were the opposites of one another conducted meaningful conversation by sharing their thoughts on diversity and inclusivity on campus. The invisible barriers that block us from relationship crumbled, personal agendas set aside, and the idea of an improved Sewanee was advanced. There is nothing magical about this formula; it merely took a willingness to listen to another perspective besides your own. Instead of simply making noise and stirring controversy, it is possible to practice these principles and alter the trajectory of how we promote change in our country.
A mentor of mine once told me, “A strength overdone becomes a weakness.” Sewanee, our strength is our passion and fire! We are a generation of change, motivated to affect not only our communities but the world, preserving it for posterity’s sake. But when our thoughts amount to senseless bantering, we are left alone, divided, and weak. I offer the following challenge: when a problem arises, flee from immediate blame and judgment. Go to your brother or sister and talk to them; work with them and not against them. Allow yourselves to reach agreement through understanding. The most detrimental thing we can do as a campus, as a community, and as a nation is abandon one another, especially in such a time as this.