Letter to the Editor

Dig deeper into Kaepernick issue

Thursday, September 8, 2016

I am responding to Dana Larsen's recent article because, well, I can and because the overall tone of this article is a bit condescending and seems to look past the real issue behind Mr. Kaepernick's protest. I will preface this email by stating that I have been a loyal reader of the Tribune and your articles since high school. I graduated from SLHS in 2010 and I'm currently attending law school in Washington, DC but I still follow the happenings in Storm Lake via Facebook and articles in the local papers.

So, I encourage you to read this with an open mind and from a place of wanting to understand and engage in dialogue and not simply disagreement...

To begin, I have read this article several times and the message I keep getting from this is, "Sure there might be racial inequality somewhere out there in a distant land (totally removed from my white male perspective and my form of patriotism) BUT the way you choose to protest makes me really uncomfortable so I will tell you that the way you choose to exercise your rights is unacceptable."

I have tried to break down my response based on certain sections of your article...

1. First, you start off by stating that Kaepernick's protest in and of itself proves just how great America is because he absolutely has this right. You continue on by scolding him, and make him out to be an idiot by exercising this very right. If Americans are scolded, physically threated and put down every single time they are exercising their rights, does that not discourage the actual exercise of those rights? For example, what if all of the people you see standing for the pledge or the national anthem are not standing out of respect for the flag but from fear of what others around them will say or do, does that not defeat the purpose of standing in the first place? I understand that there are always consequences for what people say or do but that just seems very counterintuitive to the ideals of a country that encourages the flow of free thoughts and ideas. I encourage you to think about that the next time you stand for the national anthem and look around at those standing around you, especially those who are people of color; are they standing out of respect, out of fear, or out of apathy for what the flag is supposed to represent.

2. Next, you state the Kaepernick is a performer and he works for an audience, most of who would disagree with him sitting. There are far too many racial implications and undertones of this statement for me to get into but I encourage you to think back to the 60's and 70's when black people where allowed to entertain their white audiences but weren't allowed to enter through the same entrances as them or when they weren't even allowed to be patrons in the same clubs and arenas that they were "performing" in. I may dig deeper into this topic at a later date but just think about the way you framed this portion of your article. It's all about perspective Mr. Larsen, when you as a white male in a white male dominated society say something like that, what I read as a black woman in this society is, "Stay in your place, we pay you to entertain us, not to speak on issues." Although, you may say that we are far removed from this era in United States history, we really are not Mr. Larsen. Just have a conversation with any black or Hispanic kid that roams the halls of Storm Lake High School, they may not be able to articulate the underlying issues but they know they exist. Further, although, a lot of these laws are technically off the books, people still find ways to work their biases into larger mainstream society in a more discreet manner. I just encourage you to read that piece of your article and think about it from a different perspective. Maybe read some articles written by black journalist aor scholars on this very topic. (Again, this issue is very extensive and I have done it no justice in this quick response.)

3. Next, you sweep over the real issue of the protest to begin with. You state that racial inequities are a very real and important issue in this country but you fail to actually discuss the problem. You brush over the topic and quickly bring up a defensive counter point about black cops that have been murdered by citizens. Respectfully, this completely misses the point of his actions Mr. Larsen. Yes, we understand that the killing of cops by citizens and the killing of other black people by black people are issues and completely unacceptable. No one in their right mind will say those actions are okay. No one who criticizes police brutality tries to justify the killing of police officers. But, I challenge you to think about this, Mr. Larsen; when citizens kill police officers they are held accountable. They are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. When citizens kill other citizens they are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Mr. Larsen, when police officers kill people of color, or white people for that matter, out of their own fears and biases, we give them the benefit of the doubt. Even when it is found that they had no right to take those actions, nothing happens. The families of cops and other citizens 9 times out of 10, get some sense of justice from our legal system whether or not that is real justice, is up to each person to decide for themselves.

Further, Mr. Larsen, I find it sad and very uncomfortable that when having these discussions we are placing police officers within the same standards as criminals. This is actually frightening. After having a conversation with my older brother, who happens to be a Green Beret in the US Army and someone who has served this country overseas, four times over. He expressed this same concern to me. He explained that as a person who serves this country, he is held to a very strict and high standard. When people who serve in our military engage in conduct that may be seen as contrary to the laws of this country or to the rules that have been given to them, their punishments are far greater then someone who commits the same crime but is a civilian. When we criticize the institution of law enforcement in this country, it is not because police officers are inherently bad. We bring it up because the deference we give police officers in our legal system allows for the abuse of power in far to many instances. Anti-police brutality is not anti-police.Again, this specific issue is not done justice by a quick paragraph or simple response but I encourage you to look into it a bit more. I also encourage you to explore the hashtag #VeteransforKaepernick. There have been several articles written about this.

4. Next you state, "Mr. Kaepernick, you have opportunity. You have cameras on you every day, you have the ear of reporters any time you desire, you have countless people hanging on every syllable you post on social media."

Mr. Kaepernick has been speaking on these issues for a pretty long time now, as have several other athletes and celebrities who recognize that there are issues out there to be discussed and acted upon. This illustrates a point that some folks only decide to "engage" in certain conversations when something they don't like happens. For example, everyone has an opinion when there are riots, highway shutdowns, or when someone sits for the national anthem. Mr. Kaepernick has been using his social media forums to discuss these issues. He has been speaking out and supporting the folks that do organizing work on the front lines of the issue. But that is just the thing, he is preaching to the choir when he does this. Folks that have no stake in these issues do not listen or care when the peaceful and respectable conversations happen because they are easy to ignore. Mr. Kaepernick took it upon himself to make you all engage and to make you all pay attention. Although, it is sad that instead of engaging in the issues underlying his protest, we are putting his patriotism to question.

5. You state, "You are not Mohammed Ali, or even Tommie Smith or John Carlos with their fists raised in the '68 Olympic Games. These are different times. Times that call for dialogue, times that yearn for unity."

I'm sorry but I don't fully understand this. Kaepernick stated explicitly that dialogue is exactly what he hopes to elicit by sitting down. Further, John Carlos himself has come out in support of Colin Kaepernick. The same sentiments that led to his protesting are those that led to Muhammed Ali's ban from the sport of boxing. The same sentiments that he is protesting are the same issues that led to Mohammed Ali to completely changing his name. The same sentiments that led Kaepernick to sit down are the exact issues that led Tommie Smith and John Carlos to raise their fists in support of the Black Power movement.

Are you saying that because history glossed over the way these men were treated during their prime (Ali, Carlos and Smith) make them less militant and less problematic than Mr. Kaepernick? Hindsight is 20/20 Mr. Larsen. I urge you to ask yourself where would you have stood during the time of Ali's protest and Smith and Carlos's fist raise. You may be tempted to say that you would have agreed and supported them but, really, would you have?

6. You finish by saying, "That doesn't mean that everything is perfect. It means we are willing to stand, together for what we believe in. Let's have this conversation about equality, and waste no more time with one over the actions of a spoiled athlete."

I ask you, what conversation? Because a lot of the folks I see criticizing Mr. Kaepernick feel uncomfortable about the very thought of inequality in America because it does not affect their day to day lives. Sometimes it takes disruption and feeling uncomfortable to bring real change Mr. Larsen. I ask you, would you even have thought about writing something like this if it weren't for what Mr. Kaepernick did? Instead of writing him off as a spoiled athlete, look at the deeper meaning behind why he decided to sit. He recognizes that even if you view him as a spoiled athlete who should know his place and just entertain us, that there is a voice in his platform. He is able to articulate what thousands of Americans feel everyday. Even if he himself is not oppressed by these systems on a daily basis, there are people out there that are. That is the very idea of ally-ship and engaging in discourse.

Again, my thoughts are not fully polished and conversations like this may be better had in person and in a face-to-face basis but I felt compelled to reply to your editorial. There are far more articulate and smart people who have written on this very topic and I encourage you to seek out their articles and their opinions. They are far more clear than what I have written. I just hope that what I have written encourages you to step outside of your perspective and REALLY dig deeper into the underlying issues.