A Father's Guide to Assessing Colin Kaepernick
As I sit and write today, the internet is rife with thoughts and comments on Colin Kaepernick's decision to kneel during the national anthem. In protest of racial injustices that are now in-your-face 24/7 news and social media, Kaepernick and several other athletes have decided to use the national anthem as an avenue to demonstrate their frustrations.
I won't share my opinion on his actions. Like everyone else, I have one. My opinion doesn't matter. Instead, I aim to consider this issue from the perspective of a father; a white father, raising two white children who will grow to become future leaders of this nation. This is my vision for my children. I hope it is for yours. My children aren't Kennedys, Bushs or Clintons, but they will have the opportunity to lead in some capacity. And, I only hope to prepare them. Our nation needs leaders. We need more adults who are capable of thinking critically across broad domains. So, when I say "future leaders," I don't simply mean political leaders. Our children will become leaders in their own communities, in business, technology, and even in social media.
What do we tell our children about Mr. Kaepernick's actions?
My children are too young to understand what is happening. They are shielded from the nastiness and evil that exists here in the United States and throughout the world. Though it won't be for too long. My eldest boy is a kindergartener in a public school that most of my white, middle/upper-income friends would NEVER dream of sending their own children. My son's classroom is a rainbow room of ethnicity. We live on a military installation and like many military installations, it is located directly in a lower-income area. We "shouldn't" live here. He knows nothing of race. He has yet to ask about skin color (and I wonder if/when he will). I imagine the black children in his class do notice skin color. The conversations in their respective homes are likely different. And understandably so.
So, if my boy was old enough to grasp the issue, it could go one of two ways. One, I could simply tell him, which side was right, and which side was wrong. "Son, Colin Kaepernick has no respect for this country, those that fought for our freedoms, and knows nothing of sacrifice." Alternatively I could, say "Son, it's time for black men of notoriety to take a stronger stand against racial injustices and do something controversial to highlight the issue. I applaud him." Or, two, I could talk about the controversy and allow my son to explore the issue himself. He doesn't have to think like me. I don't need to control his thoughts. Here's an example.
SON: "Dad, what is going on with the football player in the news?"
ME: "Well, this man is engaging in a form of protest. He has decided to kneel during the national anthem because he feels the country isn't doing enough to address racial injustices that exist."
SON: "But people are really angry. Is he wrong?"
ME: "Some people are upset because they feel he isn't honoring our nation like he should. Some feel it is disrespectful to those who have sacrificed their lives for this country. Standing for the anthem is a longstanding tradition that has rarely been challenged. He is the first to do so in a long time."
SON: "So, he shouldn't be disrespectful then. He should stand like everyone else and honor the United States."
ME: "Well, he is getting a lot of attention and his actions have certainly started a dialogue about a very serious issue. His intention isn't to disrespect veterans."
SON: "So you agree with him?"
ME: "I don't know. What do you think?"
When we tell our children how to feel about social issues, we narrow their worldview and limit their capability to problem solve. You see, it doesn't matter if our children ultimately come out on one side or the other. It doesn't even matter if they agree with us. They are children. They are developing. What is important, is that they learn to critically dissect an issue, and do so in a thoughtful, intelligent manner. The ability to do this is a one of the most important skills we can pass on to our children. It is a skill a large segment of the population lacks today. I can scroll through my Facebook newsfeed right now and provide examples of those incapable of meaningfully discussing this issue. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing an educated "friend" post a pathetic meme that completely discounts the feelings of their adversary. As if the other side has no legitimate ideas or emotions. That is not leadership. It is not transformative. It is useless. It is harmful. Our children need us to be better.