In favor of deeper, humanizing discussions and against mindless, political reflexes
A few days ago I set out to write an opinion-based article about the recent wave of NFL silent protests during the national anthem. As I sat down and opened my laptop, however, I quickly ran into an inescapable problem—I was not entirely sure what my opinion was. Always a huge believer in the right to protest—a right derived from the same freedoms that enable me to freely publish my opinions in articles like this one—I respect Colin Kaepernick for his decision at the start of that oh-so-important pre-season game. That respect came dangerously close to tumbling down a steep cliff when the quarterback decided to walk into a press conference the following day sporting a shirt that depicted the meeting of Malcolm X and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Below the images of the two leaders were the words, “Like minds think alike.”
Though my anger mostly arises from my bias as a Cuban-American, anyone in this country should understand the reason his wardrobe choice had me up in arms. If Kaepernick were to travel just 90 miles south of the States and attempt to protest any of the countless injustices of the Cuban government in similar fashion, he would meet much tougher response than the wrath of millions of self acclaimed patriots armed and ready with locked and loaded YouTube accounts. Regardless of my response to Colin’s shirt, let’s return from my brief wardrobe-themed digression and focus instead on the nation’s response to the wave of anthem protests that followed in Kaepernick’s wake, because in reality my opinion on his protest or on his shirt means nothing to all of you who have undoubtedly already formed your own. My opinion on how we as a nation respond to these incidents, however, might prove more intriguing. So let’s focus not on Kaepernick, but on the social media-wielding responders.
As with most anything that happens in today’s world, the media quickly announced the most recent national gossip to millions of Americans already hunkered down in their respective trenches. With fingers still sore from the last battle (probably over Hillary Clinton’s bout of pneumonia), the rapid fire of keystrokes began. Even as tweets came whizzing at lightning speed across the online battlefield, it was easy to see that in recognizably American fashion, two distinct sides were quickly materializing. It was sincerely surprising how rapidly the public began to forget what they were even fighting about. Actually, in retrospect it seems that there was nothing to forget, because every single soldier in the virtual battle missed the point from the very beginning, just as we have for some time amidst the political debacle plaguing our nation.
After this realization came to me a few days ago, I decided not to join the online trench warfare with an article that clearly settled on one side of the debate, but to instead attempt to expose the fact that we use these small and unimportant battles to constantly distract ourselves from the real problems at hand. The pattern is obvious. For every event that could possibly occur in this nation, we have been programmed to respond in predictable ways that place us on opposite sides of the battlefield.
A shooting occurs in a school: some shout gun control and others say that good guys with guns are our only hope.
Another terrorist attack is carried out: some blame Obama, and others are quick to remind their opponents that the blame lies definitively with Bush, not Obama.
You get the gist, but one interesting and frightening thing I’ve realized is that this polarization of beliefs is beginning to pervade even the most trivial of subjects. Cat videos that used to be a safe refuge from the online warfare I described above are now riddled with commenters digging a second trench and accusing innocent cat-owners turned cat-videographers of animal abuse, but I digress. Somehow while we stand in the middle of constant political warfare, we forget that although we may not agree on the means, we usually agree on the end. The only problem is that we may never reach the end if we waste our time arguing about the manner in which people protest instead of the issues they are protesting. The self-inflicted diversions are understandable. We humans will do anything we can to ignore problems that are not immediately contributing to our extinction.
Perhaps my point is best made with a more literal reference from history. In World War I, traditional warfare tactics began to become obsolete with improving technology. The war quickly settled into a stalemate between the French and the Germans, each dug deeply into their trenches. The area between the two enemies was called “no man’s land.” The reason that World War I was perhaps the most grueling war in recent history is that both sides could lose hundreds of thousands of men and advance less than a hundred yards. One of the greatest war films of all time, “Paths of Glory,” highlights the dehumanization that occurs in situations like this. The most moving scene in the movie is the final scene, in which French soldiers are moved to tears by the voice of a young German woman singing a folksong in her native language. The tears come from the realization that they are fighting to kill men who are in most ways no different from them. Amidst the constant blur of mortars exploding and bullets flying, it was simply easier to pin the people on the opposing side as evil animals, but at a certain point we can no longer ignore the reality of our situation.
I realize I am risking an overdramatic comparison, but if today we continue to dig deeper into our own virtual trenches and refuse to hear the voices on the other side of “no man’s land,” then we will never resolve any of our actual problems. It is easy to burn a Kaepernick jersey. It is easy to then stamp out the flames and shut him out just as you ignored his valid argument. It is far more difficult to speak out about actual issues.
And so, in conclusion, all I have to say is that I think it is about time we bring some humanity back to our world. It is time we turn our focus to real issues. It is time we talk about what we need to start doing right instead of what Kaepernick or anyone for that matter may be doing wrong. It’s time to emerge from our trenches and realize that not everyone who disagrees with you is an idiot. It is time to wake up, and it is most definitely time for change.