Protests against racial injustice need to be more disruptive

Colin Kaepernick, an American football quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, sent the nation into a buzz when he sat during the national anthem at a preseason NFL game on Aug. 26.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in a postgame interview.

His decision prompted both a surge of support and a surge of outrage at his chosen method of protest against racial injustice.

This act of protest is extremely benign in literal terms – the act of sitting out the national anthem does not directly threaten anyone else.

In fact, if we examine history, sitting out the national anthem presents one of the least radical ways of protesting racial injustice in America.

The outrage is supplemented with sentiments that his unpatriotic protest disrespects members of the military who serve our nation.

This contrasts the tremendous amount of support from veterans of color, documented by the hashtag #VeteransForKaepernick.

They agree that despite their service in the military, racial and social hierarchy in the United States determines their life chances and those of others.

Other sentiments opposing Kaepernick’s protest focus on the fact that since he’s a rich football player, he must not experience the oppression he’s protesting against and he should be grateful for the privilege of wealth.

This particularly striking argument demonstrates a lack of compassion for the suffering of fellow Americans who do not share a specific dynamic of privilege.

Kaepernick’s method of protest outraged many enthusiastic sports fans because they feel as though sports games are a time for leisure and a time to forget about the world’s troubles.

Kaepernick, however, saw this as the perfect time to use his platform to make a big statement about America’s current events.

If these sports fans had it their way, Kaepernick would’ve protested quietly, with the cameras off, in a dark room, where nobody could see him.

Which begs the question: are the types of protests acceptable by mainstream society the most effective at promoting change?

In order to be effective, the act of protest in itself is meant to be disruptive in one way or another. If people protested in completely comfortable spaces and in ways that were convenient to the dominant society, protested issues would never be resolved.

Take Rosa Parks for example. Her refusal to give up her seat in some way inconvenienced and annoyed some white people who enjoyed the privilege of sitting in the front of the bus.

However, Parks’ action created one of the pivotal historic moments for the struggle for civil rights. Had Parks not disrupted the peace, would we have progressed as far as we have?

Amber Moreland, vice president of WSU’s Young Women’s Christian Association, provides a similar perspective, having participated in the silent protest #WakeUpWSU held by students of color and their allies in April 2015.

“As for off campus … how many people would continue to pay attention to horrible acts of violence if protests continue to be as peaceful?” Moreland said. “It is an American right to protest in any form, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we begin to see and participate in more radical forms of protest.”

The movement responded to a racial incident that occurred between a female student of color and a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity.

This protest was met with hateful comments anonymously posted on Yik Yak.

Students posted screenshots of the comments on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #WakeUpWSU.

In addition to racial slurs, comments like “They don’t know what real racism is, they should go to the South” and “instead of protesting, maybe you should leave” demonstrated not only the lack of compassion for marginalized people, but also the lack of desire to understand.

Ironically, this phenomenon took place in an educational institution – a place where students are supposed to seek enlightenment about the world around them.

If historically liberal college students can’t empathize with people who are different from them, how will we convince the rest of the nation that protests like Kaepernick’s should open a dialogue about injustice instead of attacking free speech?

Some NFL fans burned Kaepernick’s jersey, created provoking memes about him on social media, and attacked his identity – all for his refusal to stand up.

At the rate that racial injustice is re-emerging, a refusal to stand up for America’s national anthem is the least of our worries.

While many believe his method of protest was inappropriate, disrespectful and too disruptive, many people of color believe that it was not disruptive enough.

The amount of racial injustice endured by marginalized groups is much greater and more significant than Kaepernick’s supposed unpatriotic act.

Although his actions will certainly be a significant note in the struggle for social justice, effective protest earns much more than a burned jersey.

Effective protest earns change.

Basheera Agyeman is a junior comparative ethnic studies major from Accra, Ghana. She can be contacted at 335-2290 or by opinion@dailyevergreen.com. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the staff of The Daily Evergreen or those of The Office of Student Media.