As I watch our nation continue to struggle with our racial problems, the biggest part of me does so from an emotional, human level. But, always, a part of me is also analyzing the events from my more detached perch as a teacher and student of history. I tend to see the world in the bigger picture and I tend to naturally look for patterns and connections. The terrible recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia have sent my mind to spinning, finding patterns and connections all over the place. I am also seeing some inconsistencies, hypocrisy if you will, with regard to the way many Americans view their history and the Constitution.
While I was fighting off nausea watching the gut wrenching scenes in Charlottesville, it did not escape my historian’s grasp how fitting a place that town is to host an event wherein our national racial tension bubbled once again to the surface, given its proximity to the home of Thomas Jefferson. Monticello sits on a mountain top, overlooking Charlottesville and the University of Virginia, which was founded by Jefferson. Jefferson and his plantation are the embodiment of America’s racial paradox. America is a nation founded on lofty ideals of equality penned by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence and we are a nation that has struggled–and too often failed– to live up to those words ever since. Read more about my thoughts on Jefferson and Monticello here.
Our Constitution famously protects our freedoms of speech and expression. This, too, we’ve continually tried to mess up. It seems everyone loves their rights to expression–the rights to speak your mind and to protest as you see fit–but not so much when others express theirs. That’s the thing about the Bill of Rights, it’s the ultimate un-democratic document. It protects the rights of the few against the will of the many. So few Americans seem to understand this. So few of us appear to comprehend that those are the rights that our soldiers have fought and died to protect–the rights that our flag represents–the rights of White Nationalists to assemble and spew hate–and yes, the right of Colin Kaepernick to take a knee during the National Anthem. Too many Americans don’t seem to get that, when it comes to rights, they belong to everyone–the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The hypocrisy runs deep.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a great risk showing solidarity with the cause of the Black Lives Matter movement. He has paid a great price for it–and continues to do so. Kaepernick, once a rising star in the league, is now without a team and it looks as if he has been blackballed due to his immense unpopularity among fans who see him as anti-American.I live in Indianapolis and I’m a Colts season ticket holder. If you follow the NFL, you likely know that Colts star quarterback, Andrew Luck, had offseason shoulder surgery and is currently still recovering. His availability for the first few games of the season is still very much in doubt. This leaves the Colts with a real problem at the QB position–a fact that was borne out in a pitiful offensive performance in the first preseason game. A sportswriter here in Indy, Bob Kravitz, wrote a column suggesting that the Colts should sign Kaepernick–who would almost certainly be a big talent upgrade to any of their backups–to a temporary contract to fill in until Luck can return. Poor Bob Kravitz was swamped by angry Colts fans’ responses. They were ready to run Kravitz out of town on a rail for suggesting putting Kaepernick in Colts blue. You can read some of those responses here.
Watching that little local drama play out half amused me and half sickened me. But I immediately began to see the connections–and the hypocrisy–in the vitriolic fan responses. All that outrage is misinformed emotional hyperbole. Colin Kaepernick, whether you agree with him or not, was exercising an ultimate American right–he was doing exactly what our soldiers have fought and died for us to be able to do.
Many of those Colts fans–and fans of all the other franchises who would threaten to drop their allegiance to their teams if they dare signed Kaepernick–are the same people who support the rights of the protestors in Charlottesville who are so upset at the potential of removing a monument to Robert E. Lee. Many of those fans likely see no problem with people flying Confederate flags to support their “heritage.” The hypocrisy of calling Colin Kaepernick anti-American, yet supporting monuments and flags that represent a failed attempt at the ultimate act of treason ever committed against the U.S. is completely lost on these people.
They fail to understand that these rights go both ways. Yes, Colin Kaepernick had every right to protest in his very subtle way.
By the same token, those White Nationalists had every right to protest in their not-so-subtle way–until it became violent.
Time and again, Americans reveal our ignorance about rights and our deep-seated hypocrisy when it comes who we think can express them.
It’s past time we get rights right.
Photo Credit: Gabe Rivera