By Lisa Keating
You might be asking yourself, “Why is a LGBTQ Youth Advocate and mother of a transgender daughter defending Colin Kaepernick?” I know a little something about challenging social norms, compliance and the risks of staying silent. I’ve made a career out of it.
Colin ignited a conversation and exposed the vulnerability of patriotism, more specifically on how a person expresses and defines it. My own patriotism has evolved throughout my life. As a teenager, it was certainly not something I gave much thought to, (there was MTV to watch and baseball to be played). It has been something that organically developed out of my own experiences and desire to learn.
I am a child of the Vietnam and Nixon era. Government was not to be trusted. My grandmother used to always say the politicians were like used car salesmen; they were not to be trusted. The Vietnam veterans in my family didn’t talk about the honor of their service the way my grandfather’s, who served in WWII or even my great-grandfather, who served in WWI reminisced. They were proud of their sacrifice and the impact it made for the U.S. and our allies. As a little girl, I would sit at their feet listening to war stories, the men they fought with and places they traveled. Their stories fascinated me. My father and uncles did not talk about their service the same way, if they talked about it at all. There was shame, guilt and anger surrounding their experiences.
I have grown into a becoming a social activist; due mostly to a compulsion to create change, not necessarily from ego. (Though, admittedly, some days my ego seeks recognition.) Some within my own inner circle have disagreed with some of my choices and forms of protest. Or my perspectives that lead me to protest, take action and choose to no longer stay silent. Each instance of protest was fueled because I reached a tipping point. My tipping point is different from your tipping point and is based on a collection or series of events or information. It’s not always a rational. My threshold of intolerance is not measurable to another because it is dependent upon individuality and the relationship with others in all areas of a person’s life.
What can appear as an entitled, self-aggrandized act of protest from a professional athlete, musician or actor doesn’t always resonate with the general populous. Celebrities have access to the highest influential groups in our nation. We worship celebrities in this country. And yet, we’re quick to rip them apart if they behave in a way that is less than what we project them to be. You know, human?
Unfortunately, the message of Colin’s protest has been drowned out. His motives, integrity, humanity have been shredded in the media, Facebook, and Twitter. I don’t know this man. Before last Friday, I had never heard his name before.
Regardless of Colin’s motives, I am grateful he did it. This single act has caused a chain reaction that has elevated the discussion of racism, American history, and patriotism. It has created an opportunity for people to ask questions, reflect and could lead to a catalyst for change. A protest is rarely tied up in a neat little box. The purpose of protesting is to inconvenience people, make them uncomfortable and ultimately use critical thinking to find a solution. There are countless things I am proud of our country for and almost an equal number of things I am saddened, frustrated, embarrassed and outraged by. (Remember Abu Ghraib?) I can relate to why Colin made that choice.
As a result, this protest has caused me to think about active duty soldiers and veterans who have been discriminated against, left without recourse, proper medical and mental health care by the very branches of armed services and government they have sacrificed for. What about the thousands of female soldiers who are survivors of sexual assault who have been silenced and faced retaliation by their male peers for reporting their abuse? I wonder if the flag and national anthem means the same to them. How has it been tainted by their experiences? Patriotism isn’t insular.
Here’s a dirty secret; for years I have felt uncomfortable saying the Pledge of Allegiance and singing the national anthem. I personally disagree with President Eisenhower’s act of adding of “Under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance which was added essentially due to the circumstances from the Red Scare. This is a country made up of immigrants and First Nation peoples. Whose God exactly are we pledging to? To me it goes against our constitution of separation of church and state, but I’m old fashion and a closet history geek. It seems the obsessive, narrow view and definition of what constitutes patriotism forces compliance not commitment or true allegiance.
Does this mean that I hate my country? That I should leave and find a new one? Or that I don’t honor those who have served and died for my constitutional right to question my government and speak up against injustices? There are those who will be paint me as a traitor for just writing this piece. But they are not my concern, or as my friend says, “Not my circus!”
The act of questioning is at the core of a democracy. We have been afforded constitutionally protected rights to do so. Studying and revising history helps me be a more informed and engaged voter, community activist and leader. Not blindly accepting and acting out a flag worship style of patriotism. It doesn’t demonstrate intentional citizenship. The more knowledge I have strengthens my ability to be an effective citizen and leader; a better American. I see the greater potential we have as a collective people to affect change in our country and the world. I deeply wish we chose to act on it more often with intention for the betterment of all of us, not just some of us.
Being a social activist, I’ve learned to invest my time and resources with those who care to learn and ask questions. Maybe at first they don’t understand, have concerns, or don’t know how to make a difference. It’s their willingness to do something that is valuable. A spark within that forces them to stand up, or in Kaepernick’s case, to sit down. Only time will tell if Colin’s tipping point will inspire us to choose to make systematic changes.