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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Some Of You Are Half Right

But most of you are completely wrong.

I've watched from afar as many NFL players have decided that kneeling during the singing of the National Anthem is an appropriate way to protest racial inequality in America.  

I've also watched as many people have criticized these players for choosing this specific form and forum for their protest; labeling it unpatriotic and disrespectful... and in the process dredging up all kinds of patriotic bonafides to bolster their viewpoint, such as distinguished military service, holding public office, hailing from a hard-working immigrant family, etc..

The problem is that none of this could remotely be called a debate since, by definition, a debate is a formal discussion on a particular topic in which opposing arguments are put forward.  So far I haven't seen opposing arguments or discussions of any kind. 

What I have seen is the positioning of opposing agendas, ad hominem attacks and straw man statements that have everything to do with whether this particular kind of protest is legitimate or potentially effective, and nothing to do with what the players are actually protesting!

So let's cut through the noise and make a little order, shall we?

First, so long as it doesn't involve violence or incitement, any sort of protest is legitimate and legal in the US.  I'm sure some budding legal scholar will present an exception to the point I have just made, but be assured, it will be as unhelpful as it is irrelevant. 

Effective protest takes place in the public square employing the loudest, most visible means at the disposal of the protesters.  To do otherwise would be pointless.  That is why public figures - actors, athletes, politicians and others in the public eye - are often the ones selected to give voice to words and gestures of protest.

True, they are public figures because of things that are nearly always unrelated to whatever cause they are protesting or supporting with their momentary celebrity.  But the last time I checked, there was no rule in public debate against drafting prominent spokespeople to give voice to causes that are less well known.

Next, the whole, "I (my brother, father, uncle, etc.), served in the military, and I say kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner is disrespectful, treasonous behavior!" crap has to stop.  I'm a veteran and I can assure you that my status as a veteran lends my voice no more weight than someone who didn't serve, and gives me no special privileges to arbitrate what kinds of protest are appropriate.

By the same token, while celebrities are chosen for their visibility to give voice to various causes, their celebrity does not automatically make them right any more than my car having a louder horn gives me the legal right of way. 

It is up to the listener/viewer to weigh the message - not the messenger! - and decide for themselves what is right or wrong.  And it is only through thousands and millions of free citizens of a free, open democracy weighing the message and reaching their own individual conclusions that some semblance of consensus for the terms and scope of the actual debate can emerge.

The national anthem, kneeling players, flag-waving veterans, etc., are not the debate.  They are the protest.  What emerges (or is supposed to emerge), after the protest is the debate.

And that is what is completely absent from the town squares and public spaces in the US today:  Legitimate, intellectually honest debate. 

People seem to be so terrified of actual debate that they will shame and denigrate anyone with an opposing opinion so as not to have to refute what they are saying.  Do you realize how toxic and anti-democratic that is when ideas and opinions are silenced and nullified by calling the person giving them voice a pariah?

I'm not a big American football fan, but I can't deny the visibility of the players on game day, or the effectiveness of the timing of their protest during the playing of national anthem.  If they (or political activists behind the scenes), use the gridiron to draw attention to a real or perceived injustice... that is legitimate protest, and you can't deny that it is hard to ignore. 

But by the same token, those with equally visible positions who Tweet criticism of the protesters actions are also protesting.  The problem is they are protesting completely different things.  They aren't talking to one another.  They aren't engaging in an exchange of ideas.  And they certainly aren't engaging in debate!

Sadly, none of this is new, or even unique to the US.  Public protest around the world has been reduced to the level of ancient warfare, with the two sides refusing to even face one another and simply trying to subdue the 'enemy' by lobbing flaming boulders over the ramparts with catapults.  

Those rhetorical boulders are the outrage-filled rants that I see day in and day out on the Facebook feeds of people who I used to think of as reasonable; the people engaged in shamelessly virtue signalling and threatening to unfriend anyone who doesn't immediately denounce the last offensive statement or action of their perceived opponents.

Grow up, people! Protest is offensive!!!  That is why it works.  It ignores the norms (note, not laws), of civilized society.  Social norms stigmatize raising one's voice, giving offense and/or causing discomfort to one's neighbor.  Protest deliberately flies in the face of those norms.  If it didn't, nobody would notice the protesters, or by extension the thing they are protesting!   

The NFL players who are kneeling in protest know they are being deliberately offensive and disrespectful.  For proof one need only look at Sunday's game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Jacksonville Panthers which was played in London.  Many of the players knelt during the playing of the American anthem, but all stood during the playing of the British anthem.  They were making it clear that their protest was aimed at an American audience (even though the UK has its own problems with race relations), and was not meant to give offense to the host nation that had no ability to correct the injustice being protested by the players.

So please get down off your high horses about the mode, forum and channels being used by protesters.  Protest is unsettling and offensive.  If doesn't unsettle or offend someone, it isn't a protest... it's a pep-rally. 

The irony that seems to be lost on virtually everyone is that there is almost no disagreement about the thing the players are protesting.  Seriously!  If you are the odd duck who is actually in favor of discrimination, police brutality or racial injustice, please feel free to tell us all why. Otherwise, it may surprise you to discover that we are almost all on the same side of this particular protest.  The protest, not the debate.

What remains to be debated, however, is how to set about correcting the things that set the protests in motion.  And so far, I see almost none of my otherwise reasonable friends stepping up with positions or ideas on how to do that. 

In my humble opinion, if you are broadcasting emotional, hate-filled vitriol from your little Facebook soapbox without even touching on the issues that are actually up for debate, you are simply out of order... and you are wrong.  

Posted by David Bogner on September 26, 2017 | Permalink

Comments

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Most people would say they're not in favor of brutality and discrimination. But the problem is all the people who say those things don't really exist on the level that they're being protested. I spoken to countless folks that think the US does not have any systemic racism, and that the racism and brutality that does happen is localized, and not common, and who now believe that white (men in particular) are the new oppressed class (actual words used in a conversation with me by more than one person). So, you can't have a rational debate with someone who doesn't think there is anything to debate. Which is why they're lashing out at the action of protest.

Posted by: Leah Weiss Caruso | Sep 26, 2017 7:21:14 PM

Much of black and white America is now in the grip of a distorted, leftist mythology about their country, so much so that the flag and anthem have become for them symbols of hate, when these are nothing of the sort. Citizens are free to act out their ignorance in nonviolent ways, but other citizens, the loyal ones, are free to object.

Posted by: RAM | Sep 26, 2017 9:53:00 PM

It seems to me that you miss the essence of the point, which is that employees do not have the right to 'send messages' on company time. If a waiter in a restaurant 'sent a message' about any particular topic while serving you he/she would be fired. They don't have the right to risk turning away customers while on the job, no matter how highly paid. What they do on their own time is an entirely separate issue. People pay a lot of $$ for tickets, or for cable tv packages in order to be entertained, not be offended.

Posted by: Shalom | Sep 26, 2017 11:13:01 PM

Shalom ... no, it seems to me (and anyone reading along) that you have missed or ignored the essence of MY point, which is that whether the protest was legitimate, legal, permitted, tasteful, respectful, etc. is completely beside the point! That you are still talking about it means that the protest was successful, and that is all that matters to the protesters. Now, to the actual point of my post, are you for or against discrimination, police brutality or racial injustice? It's really a simple question that far too many people seem to be having trouble answering.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Sep 27, 2017 12:09:44 PM

What discrimination and racial injustice? Statistics show from where the most prevalent crime stems.
Our town judge and police officers are African American.
Police brutality is now being addressed with body cams.
Is like to see how much the players donate to social causes vs following the easy and Lane way of leaning parasitically on the government to solve and pay for their communities' social ills.

These are not the foremost issues at all however to my mind. What is the worst is the further erosion of values in our society championed by those summited by many youths. They set a terrible example that will result in perpetuating that which they protest against.

Posted by: El-Ad Eliovson | Sep 27, 2017 12:36:30 PM

El-Ad Eliovson... I know and respect you, so I will take the time to paint you a picture:

"Statistics show..." I can show you statistics to support just about any position you can want. But even if there was a valid statistical analysis of national crime figures that wasn't influenced by special interests, what does that matter? If anywhere in this country a person of color fears to drive through certain areas because they will be likely to be stopped and hassled by the police, that is a problem worth addressing (and there are statistics that show it happens enough to be more than just a fluke).

Next, you say "Our town judge and police officers are African American". Really? Every last judge and police officer is black? And even if that is true, are you suggesting that black police officers aren't profiling and abusing their powers against minorities?

As to your question, "how much the players donate to social causes...?". how is that relevant? Do I need to know your level of giving before I trust the causes you support? Is a person's security and reputation part of their wealth? Risking the scorn and potential legal and financial consequences of this controversial form of protest is certainly placing their security and reputation on the line. Money can be recouped, but donating one's reputation is something they may never get back.

And who exactly is "leaning parasitically on the government to solve and pay for their communities' social ills"? that is dangerously close to a trope that smacks of painting all minorities with a very bad brush. I bristle when people do it about Jews. I would tread carefully before doing it to other vulnerable groups.

Yes, there is undoubtedly an "erosion of values in our society", but again, laying that at the feet of the protesters is intellectually dishonest and deliberately ignores and distracts from the subject of their protest.

You, my friend, are better than all that.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Sep 27, 2017 12:50:55 PM

Oh, one more important thing: It is far beyond the 'being hassled' I mentioned before. If you or I get pulled over, the worst we will leave with is a ticket. Many traffic stops that should be routine end with minority members leaving with a toe tag. I get that policing is dangerous, scary work. But so is being a soldier, and soldiers are held to a high standard of conduct BECAUSE of the awesome, terrible power and responsibility they are entrusted with. Fear is not an for opening fire on unarmed minorities. Driving while black is not a capital offense.

You remember the caretaker in the shul we both attended? He was a retired detective in the town where we lived. He told me on more than one occasions that town officers on patrol were given oral instructions to pull over any car getting off 95 with black occupants since clearly they had no legitimate business in our town. This was in 2000! Think about that!!!

Posted by: treppenwitz | Sep 27, 2017 12:56:51 PM

David, these comments illustrate my point. Which is why honest debate is never going to be possible, IMO. And why very little is likely to change here in the US if the people who reflect these misguided (at best) ideas, tropes, and myths are our elected officials. And who elects them . . .

Posted by: Leah Weiss Caruso | Sep 27, 2017 2:37:53 PM

David, we'll have to agree to disagree, b/c while people are talking about it, a large number of those people talking about it are angry and perhaps less likely to listen. To answer your question, though, I certainly am against any discrimination or unfair practice, but it seems to me that you are using a mistaken, binary way of looking at it. For example, you wrote in one of your responses "If you or I get pulled over, the worst we will leave with is a ticket." To use your method of argument--- are you really saying that NO whites that are pulled over by police are either beaten or killed? It may well be that part of it is discrimination; it also could be that part of it is how the motorist acts. Either way, insulting the symbols that people value is a great way to ensure a bad outcome.

Posted by: Shalom | Sep 27, 2017 7:40:29 PM

I fully support the rights of the NFL players to protest the National Anthem. I don't view them as heroes or particularly brave in their stance since most of the media seems to be pushing the narrative of inequality and police brutality. In reality, I believe most people are tired of being told that the country is racist when they don't see that in their normal lives.

- President Obama was elected and reelected by carrying about 40% of the white vote and yet charges of racism have only seemed to increase since 2008.
- There are many people of minority status elected to public office as part of the Republican party, yet there is a narrative that all republicans are racist.
- There are many people of minority status in executive levels (and all other management levels) of the corporate world. Even so, we are told that "Hard work" is now a racist code word.

The NFL players, who are supported by tax payers (stadiums are built with a lot of public money), choose to kneel during the Anthem to show solidarity with a persecuted group, they are well within their rights. It is obvious that people will be upset with this, so your point about being effective is correct. My disagreement with the players is regards to the validity of their protest, but that is MY disagreement and should not infringe on their right. My disagreement with your argument is that the you seem to think their actions should have no consequence. I think the earlier comment using the waitstaff as an example was close to right. You have the right to protest as you see fit, but if you are using someone else's venue to do it, then you should accept the consequences.

A link to a current commentator's take on the validity of the protest:
https://townhall.com/columnists/larryelder/2017/09/28/the-national-anthem-protests--do-facts-matter-n2387546

Posted by: Greg in NC | Sep 28, 2017 3:28:51 PM

Greg... I didn't mean to suggest that there should or shouldn't be consequences for protesting. In fact there usually are consequences, which is why real protest is fraught with personal risk. Again, no risk or offense, and what you have is a feel good day in the park or a pep rally. The NFL stands to lose a lot of sponsorship money and viewership. That will drive them to threaten and perhaps sanction the players. I seem to recall two black sprinters who stood on the medal platform back in the 70s after winning gold and bronze Olympic medals respectively. They each wore a black glove and raised their fists in a black power salute. They we subsequently stripped of their medals for protesting during the medal ceremony. They to a risk and paid a price. Was it proper to use the Olympics as a forum to hold a protest? No. But all these years later we remember the protest.

Posted by: Treppenwitz | Sep 28, 2017 7:35:02 PM

Greg... I didn't mean to suggest that there should or shouldn't be consequences for protesting. In fact there usually are consequences, which is why real protest is fraught with personal risk. Again, no risk or offense, and what you have is a feel good day in the park or a pep rally. The NFL stands to lose a lot of sponsorship money and viewership. That will drive them to threaten and perhaps sanction the players. I seem to recall two black sprinters who stood on the medal platform back in the 70s after winning gold and bronze Olympic medals respectively. They each wore a black glove and raised their fists in a black power salute. They we subsequently stripped of their medals for protesting during the medal ceremony. They to a risk and paid a price. Was it proper to use the Olympics as a forum to hold a protest? No. But all these years later we remember the protest.

Posted by: Treppenwitz | Sep 28, 2017 7:35:02 PM

Well said. You said everything I've been ranting about: IT'S NOT ABOUT THE FLAG, PEOPLE!! I'm reminded of the protests from when I was a kid, and the response from many was to call the protesters "long haired hippy freaks", rather than address the issues. People were offended because these kids had the audacity to go against the public norm and grow their hair long. They were dirty and disrespectful. Point being, the more things change... :(

Posted by: Alissa | Oct 1, 2017 7:46:06 PM

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