Column

A well-meaning Colin Kaepernick starts a conversation that, sadly, seems headed nowhere

We already know how this will end. We will talk about Colin Kaepernick’s stand over the next few days, maybe even the next few weeks. Some people might offer insightful opinions. Some people might even be open-minded enough to learn something.

And little will change.

African Americans and other ethnic minorities will continue to be disproportionately subjected to police brutality. The other race-related problems Kaepernick touched on will remain.  

Don’t believe me?

Look at the response Kaepernick generated by refusing to stand for the national anthem.

The San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback made a well-meaning, if not downright courageous, gesture to draw attention to the second-class treatment of a significant number of people in this country. You might disagree with how he went about doing that, but what he did worked. He started a nationwide conversation.

Here’s the problem: That conversation feels as if it is headed nowhere.

There was little, if anything, said about poverty. Or education. Or housing discrimination. Or any of the variety of other factors that create the divisions in society Kaepernick wants to erase.

Much of the resulting debate centered on Kaepernick’s method of protest and ignored the issues he raised. When the issues were discussed, they were handled in a depressingly simplistic manner.

Which isn’t surprising. Listen to the political rhetoric of this election cycle. Almost everything is good or bad, black or white. There’s almost nothing in between.

Take the way Kaepernick was criticized for not embracing every aspect of a country that made him a millionaire.

The argument was absurd. Kaepernick has a platform. If anyone can say something and be heard, it is he. People living on the margins of society are ignored. They needed someone to speak for them, so he did.

“I’m in a position where I can do that, and I’m going to do that for people that can’t,” Kaepernick told reporters Sunday.                                       

From the right side of the political spectrum, there was a predictable outcry about how a country that twice elected an African American president couldn’t possibly be racist. Further, it was pointed out, the biracial Kaepernick was adopted and raised by a white family.

Based on the response, you would think Kaepernick had said every white person in this country was racist  —  except, of course, he never said that. What he said was that he wanted law enforcement and elected officials to be held more accountable.

Then there was Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump saying on a Seattle radio station Monday that Kaepernick should perhaps “find a country that works better for him.” Yes, the classic love-it-or-leave-it line.

There’s a problem with that suggestion, namely that other countries have immigration laws too. An American can’t go to Australia or Japan and declare he or she will live there. Any other country in which you would want to live might well be a country that won’t take you.

It’s also unreasonable to expect a person to move because he or she has problems with certain aspects of a society. Why not stay and try to change things for the better?

As for the fixation many have on Kaepernick’s not standing for the anthem, I’m sorry, but that’s not a real problem. Unlike some of the issues Kaepernick mentioned, that never killed anyone.

Mind you, this idea that Kaepernick’s gesture is disrespectful to our military is completely a matter of interpretation. Kaepernick certainly emphasized that wasn’t his intention.

Maybe when you hear the anthem, you think of our servicemen and women. And maybe that’s why you treat it as solemnly as you do.

But maybe you think the anthem represents something else — we the people, the government, the idea of America.

It’s not as if there aren’t other ways we can pay tribute to our servicemen and women.

You know what I find really disrespectful to our soldiers? How little we pay many of them, the substandard care we often provide them.

If you want to show them respect and make more than what is ultimately an empty gesture, pay them more and improve their benefits.

That would almost certainly require an increase in taxes, but if people cared about our military as much as they say, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind paying them.

But we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about whether someone should stand. And in another week, we’ll probably be talking about something else entirely.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Twitter: @dylanohernandez

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
77°