It seems like Colin Kaepernick’s choice around how to exert his freedom of speech isn’t meeting a lot of people’s need for a certain type of respect shown in a certain type of way. I’m guessing from that angle this whole choosing to silently, and nonviolently, protest the diminished humanity of some of his fellow citizens (by sitting/kneeling down during the playing of the national anthem at a professional football game) is extremely irritating and frustrating for a lot of people?

When my former quarterback’s brother (John Harbaugh, Super Bowl winning coach of the Ravens) quoted Voltaire (‘I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend it until death your right to say it’) I thought “Yah, isn’t that what makes America great? Isn’t that what people are fighting for? Isn’t that why it’s okay to criticize the government and the President and not be condemned as treasonous or subversive?” But it seems like the First Amendment is seen very differently by different American members of team-humanity.

From my vantage point (growing up in Palo Alto, California) I think about how safe I felt in the homes of most of my Caucasian friends from having my humanity diminished and how grateful I feel to have experienced that more often than not. The painful other side (while honoring those who’ve given their lives and bodies) of being an AMERICAN of African ancestry outside of their homes, was/is:

(1) Walking into an expectation of inarticulation and tacitly being asked to pass a test of communication.

“Oh wow! You’re SO articulate. You’re not like the others. You’re special.” (Which I learned by age 10 was not a compliment, but a thuggish way of keeping a stereotype intact. In science, once a theory is disproved it’s discarded. In society, our social theories – aka stereotypes or what I like to call ‘stereos’ – seem to twist themselves into pretzels trying to carve out exceptions.)

(2) Being the first generation born after civil rights and dealing with the residue of terrorism within the family, while being told to get over it by society.

For someone who was born on 3rd base (with an inheritance of confidence, support, and resources) to brag about the triple they hit, and then tell others to keep their eye on the ball (when it was illegal for their parents/mentors to have a bat, a helmet, gloves, or even step up to home plate) is soul crushing! (Btw, re: the ‘wealthy athlete be quiet’ argument. Would we be paying attention if CK was broke and unemployed? No amount of wealth can buy back your dignity from diminished humanity. The cost of that ticket is empathy, which he’s offering us from his PLATFORM for FREE … oh, say can you see?)

(3) Getting ‘The Talk’ at 8 years old that my Caucasian friends were going to get the benefit of the doubt in the same situations I was going to get the detriment of the skepticism, and that they wouldn’t get purse-clutches and door-locks when they went out in public.

On top of experiencing it, then there’s that second punch. The push to make it seem like the honesty of the situation is something being made up (and if you’ve ever been disbelieved when you’re telling the truth, you know how devastating that can feel, right?)

If you’ve ever been a visitor at a sporting event where the home team was revered like superheroes and deities, then you might catch a glimpse into how concerning it is to see the verbal pitchforks flying around on social media. Especially when you are consciously (or subconsciously) being seen as wearing the visitors jersey (and no one seems to notice the one you’re wearing that says ‘team-humanity’ on it).

Growing up with academic and athletic privilege was the main reason that I was able to have an ‘AHA!’ moment when it came to the realization that I didn’t have ethnic privilege (pre-judgment in my favor). So with that said, here’s my take on this whole thing. The way I hear that the anthem and flag represent pride, sacrifice, and freedom for a lot of people, I wonder if those same people can hear how it can be seen as a painful reminder of terrorism and the broken promises of an American experiment that the founders couldn’t even live up to?

With all of that said, I write these words to you today with the optimism of the American dream in my heart and the post civil-rights confidence of a butterfly having no memory of the chrysalis in my mind.

Sending empathy and healing energy to anyone who’s reading this, and asking for an empathic boomerang in return. Would anyone like to reflect back to me what they believe they hear me saying?

Oh, say can you see … each other as members of team-humanity?

“Human beings are shades of brown, ‘race’ is illusory yet still we drown in the intoxication of separation, even though the GREATEST HIGH comes from connection.”

- The Empathy Guy

Tony Scruggs, known as#TheEmpathyGuy, speaks on compassion at home, in the classroom, in society, and in the workplace! Tony Scruggs is an author (‘Excellence Off The Field‘), a nonbullying coach, and a former professional athlete. For more information go toTheEmpathyGuy.com. Photo credits: Brook Ward and The All-Nite Images.


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