Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback, has sure stirred up what had been the simmering down topic of racial relations in our nation. By refusing to stand for the national anthem, he has his own fans burning his jersey. Even his birth mother disclaimed his actions on Twitter reportedly. A presidential candidate has suggested he even find a new country. I have seen conservative responses from a wide range of sources. I have also seen liberal support that even claimed the national anthem is pro-slavery and calls to sit down too. So much for a calming of the social waters.
In my line of work in the United States Air Force, we not only stand for the national anthem but we stop everything we are doing. When we are on a military base, we even stop driving till it is over. We stand for it, even before a movie is played inside of a theater. Once, when I was a second lieutenant, I went running on base and was stopped by an irate Master Sergeant. I had no idea why he was so angry. But what I had done was run through the national anthem (I had headphones on and didn’t hear it playing). In the end, I felt he was right. I should have been more aware. Too many lives have been lived for and given to treat our nation’s standards lightly.
So, Kaepernick’s method of protest is one I never would have even considered. Our nation has done much good over its history through a great deal of sacrifice. This has been underscored to me even this week as I watch HBOs “The Pacific” where the first two episodes alone deal with the sacrifices born by a wide variety of Americans on Guadalcanal in late 1942.
Nevertheless, it is worth asking ourselves why our nation, over all other nations, has become renowned in the building of jails. If I had told any of you alive in 1975 that a single country in the world was going to be building jails like shopping malls in forty years, would you have picked the United States of America? It is equally true that said jails population do not match the ethnic diversity of our nation. We jail our citizens in record numbers and at a disproportionate rate of some ethnic groups and less of others. Why this is so is a complex problem which I believe has wrongly been attributed to supposed rampant racism of our law enforcement personnel. I know law enforcement personnel in a variety of capacities (and of various ethnicities) and do not think racism is our core problem. But just because that is not the source of the problem does not mean we don’t have a problem in our country. We all know the status quo is not good. And there is no fixing it overnight. But, when lost in the woods, one should take steps to get out of it versus denying we are lost in the first place.
I believe the problems start in many poor neighborhoods – systemically. Many of our fellow citizens grow up with little home structure, poor schools, poor role models, low wage jobs with little hope of advancement, and not much hope of escaping from those places. Poor housing and easy access to drugs and to guns exacerbate the problems. And these blighted neighborhoods ethnically, tend to more closely match the makeup of our incarcerated population.
Building more and more jails, to me, is like buying more and more fire extinguishers for buildings that keep catching on fire versus asking ourselves what is causing the fires. The problem isn’t with those trying to fight the fires. The problem is with the root causes which we are all too comfortable to ignore. And our penchant to collect as little in taxes as we possibly can further causes problems in many of these regions. We can neither improve the schools, the housing, nor the law enforcement due to limited and even decreasing funding. A secularization of society isn’t helping either as churches in many of these neighborhoods were often springboards which helped people escape the cycles of poverty, violence, and drug use.
Jesus saw the people who were hurting in his society. He was drawn to them. As his 21st century followers, we should too. I truly believe Christ should call on us to transform the culture around us. We need to acknowledge our society has not been on the right course in many of our poorer neighborhoods that particularly make up our inner cities for quite sometime. We need to acknowledge that the reason why illegal drugs are a problem in our country and beyond is because we Americans are consuming them (and not just in poor neighborhoods either). We like to blame drug cartels and other countries but the drug trade wouldn’t be there if people in our country were buying it. We need to connect our churches across our cities and country to be resources for one another and care about what is going on in the worst parts of our towns. We cannot fix problems until we acknowledge them. And these problems are far worse than an NFL quarterback who won’t stand during the national anthem.
Our nation is meant to be a melting pot of people from a variety of backgrounds. We have improved in many ways over the course of our history. Other countries still look to us and the example we set. Our TV shows and movies are watched worldwide and have a bigger impact than we sometimes imagine. But that doesn’t mean we have reached Nirvana and all he need to do is hold on to the status quo. Our better angels call on us to care for each other and to perpetually build a better society. Our nation is far from perfect. But we do need to keep moving forward.
I hope Colin Kaepernick will stand back up. He is incredibly blessed to be born as an American. But, more than that, I hope we as a society work to improve the lot of those who struggle the most among us. It is what I think Jesus would do. Our blessings stretch far beyond our nationality.
What do you think?
Until next time,