The Transpartisan Review Blog #13

Colin Kaepernick & The State of Political Debate

by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner

Among factors influencing Transpartisan action, the state of debate is important but often ignored.

Take race relations, which hit the front pages when 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem.

Kaeprnick’s action presented a real opportunity for serious debate. He said of his action, “…It’s something that can unify this country. If we have these real conversations that are uncomfortable for a lot of people…there’s a better understanding of where both sides are coming from.”

Soon other NFL players and personages in other sports joined the protest while others criticized it. See Time Line of spreading protest. Casual sports observers might have thought that concerns about how he protested, (e.g.) disrupting team cohesion on game day dominated the story. Some thoughts:

1.  Sitting for the anthem amounted to a protest against the flag – the system. The system was to blame when it told blacks where to sit in buses and excluded them from restaurants. But Supreme Court decisions ended those practices. The system corrected itself, ending significant acts of public discrimination.

2.  The system protects people’s right to protest, and people should celebrate it for that.

3.  There is more to the real racism problem than “the system”. The real problem includes individual discrimination – here, some police seeming to violate oaths to uphold the law protecting people against discrimination. We all need to keep working to correct that.

4.  Another issue, however, may have greater impact in correcting abuses – even perception of abuses. We need civil society organizations (CSOs) to promote better relations between communities and police. For example The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (“The King Center”) has a non-violent policing program co-organized by Charles L. Alphina, a retired St. Louis, Missouri police captain. Its details are spelled out here. There are many examples of active partnerships between police and community organizations, sharing responsibility for law enforcement. Police seen as an ‘invading army’ is a major cause of conflict that needs to end.

5.  Racism is caused by isolation: lack of contact and lack of subjective engagement. It is true for all forms of ‘difference’. Objective strategies often have little impact: forced bussing to desegregate schools featured no incentives for subjective engagement which therefore often produced internally segregated schools.

Few actions would reduce conflict around ‘differences’ more than empowering citizens as owners of public spaces (schools, police stations, hospitals, and housing projects). ‘The system’ still has much work to do. Colin Kaepernick’s knee is good goad to us working.

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