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Taking a Knee

The protest started a year and a bit ago, because Colin Kaepernick saw his people dying in the streets and no-one punished for it. You can argue whether what he saw is a good view of what is going on in the fuller context, but that is what he saw: his people were being shot to death, and the people shooting them were facing no punishment. That’s what he said when it started, and it’s still the case. That those shooting them were police officers, and in some sense standing for the nation whose anthem we’re talking about, and that the nation had already seen enormous change on race including electing a black man as President, and that still his people were dying on the street and no-one punished for it, may have heightened a sense that he needed to be doing more.

And Colin Kaepernick was on television every week. He may have been seen on television more than the President of the United States. Millions of people saw him on television. They didn’t hear him, mind you, but they saw him. So here’s Colin Kaepernick, with an audience of millions, and here’s a massive injustice that requires the actions of millions to address.

I suspect he had what we might call an Esther moment. Y’all remember when Esther finds out about the plot to kill the Jews, and Mordechai tells her to go to the King, and she is afraid. And he says mee yodaya eem l’ayt kazote heega’at lamalkhoot, Who knows if it was for just such a time that you became queen? I don’t know if Mr. Kaepernick thought of it as an Esther moment, but he is a Bible reader, so maybe he did. He didn’t need to know the Bible verse, though, to think: this is an opportunity that not very many people have. Or have ever had.

Did he do the right thing? To be honest, I don’t know.

What would I have done, in his place? I surely don’t know that.

If it were Jews, let’s say, who were dying in the street. If I thought that the police were being trained to understand that while killing a Christian in the line of duty would be examined carefully, killing a Jew would always be assumed to be appropriate… if there were every week another Jewish fellow dead at the hands of the police, and almost every single policeman involved in the incidents was still on the force. If it were Jews, and I somehow found myself on television every week, what would I do?

Of course, it’s not remotely the same. For one thing, Mr. Kaepernick looks black, in a way that goes far beyond the way YHB looks Jewish. Purely visually (and remember, his platform gave him no opportunities to speak) that’s a big difference.

Maybe a Digression: I had not known until looking him up in Wikipedia that Mr. Kaepernick had been adopted and raised by a white family, and grew up in Turlock CA, in a town home to less than 2% African-Americans. I think that’s interesting. I have no idea how that affects his sense of who he is, how he represents blackness when he’s on TV, or how he has expected white people to react to him. But it’s interesting.

Anyway, there he was, on television every week, and he chose a thing to do, a thing with visual impact. It’s not really possible to control the interpretation of that sort of thing, and in fact the interpretation has got away from him. Now that the President has gotten involved, the choice of whether to kneel or stand during the Star-Spangled Banner has been caught up with support or opposition to the President, concern over organized white nationalism of the sort we saw in Charlottesville (and elsewhere), the treatment of immigrants and refugees, the right to free speech, and so much else. I don’t know if some other approach could have stayed narrowly focused; possibly not. He didn’t ask me before he started; if he had, I don’t know what I could have advised.

So why write about it at all, if YHB doesn’t know anything?

I happened to read something this morning that said The only cure for a quick glance is context (it was in Aviva Kushner’s The Grammar of Gd, which I hope to finish reading and write up before the end of the Days of Awe) and perhaps one thing I can help to do is to work toward the context. This may be one of those things that requires so much context to communicate through the tribal barriers that we are just doomed to frustration. I hope not. I do know that people who are fond of each other have hurt each other’s feelings over this one. A lot of the stuff I’ve seen has been written as sorts of weapons-of-mind-changing, or more accurately weapons-of-hurt-feelings. People who support the protesters write with little sympathy toward the notion that people genuinely feel affection toward the great symbols of our great nation. Things that seem to disrespect those symbols are genuinely hurtful, much as someone traducing your wife or father would be hurtful. I get that—Gentle Readers of this Tohu Bohu may be aware of my affection for symbols, rituals, institutions and values, and for norms of behavior. Although, to be quite honest, I don’t actually have much affection for the Star-Spangled Banner specifically, but then I totally understand that other people do. And their affection for that song, and that flag, is real and is, I believe, worthy of respect.

At yet: Americans are dying in the streets, and no-one punished. Americans are dying in the streets because they are black, and no-one is punished.

If you believe that is true, then the hurt you feel over the disrespect to the symbols of our nation must to be borne until we as a nation live up to them. If you don’t believe that statement, then perhaps you may at least accept that Colin Kaepernick believes it, and understand it at that level. He has taken this stand at the risk of great personal sacrifice (he has given up millions of dollars, at the least) because he believes that statement to be true. And then: if you don’t believe that Americans are killed with impunity because they are black, it might be worth looking into why he believes it so strongly. And yes, you can and ought to feel hurt by that accusation, and those making the accusation ought to understand that, too.

It is, as I mentioned earlier, the Days of Awe, so I feel it’s necessary to talk about Judgment. Or, you know, I would feel it necessary to talk about Judgment if Abraham Lincoln had not already done it for me.

Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

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