Every few years you see a news story about a monk setting himself on fire in a public square to protest some sort of injustice. I always have two reactions to that sort of thing. On one hand, I think that monk was an idiot. Surely there are better ways to communicate a message.
But on the other hand, when someone sets himself on fire to make a point, I have to say I take it more seriously than I would if I saw the same message in a Tweet. In other words, the monk succeeded in being heard.
This is the same internal conflict I had when quarterback Colin Kaepernick first refused to stand for the national anthem because he was protesting the way African-Americans are treated in this country. This was nothing less than self-immolation of a reputation and a career. Kaepernick won’t be recovering from those burns anytime soon. And he had to know what would happen. That makes him an idiot, because surely there was a better way to communicate his message. Like most Americans, I found his actions deeply offensive.
But if Kaepernick had tweeted a similar message, I would have ignored it. And so, much like the monk, Kaepernick sacrificed himself for the sake of the message, in service to those less fortunate.
Say what you will about Kaepernick and his choice of offensive socks and t-shirts. But he’s still your teammate if you’re American. And personally, when one of my teammates feels so strongly about a perceived injustice that he is willing to set his reputation and career on fire, I’m willing to listen.
And so I did. But I didn’t hear anything that sounded like a suggestion.
So I looked around on the Internet until I found a list of suggested changes allegedly compiled by someone involved with Black Lives Matter. I won’t link to it here because I have some questions about whether BLM is on the same page with those suggestions. I don’t see the suggestions on the blacklivesmatter.com website, for example.
So here’s my offer to Colin Kaepernick. I know from recent experiences that nearly all of the major news media read this blog. If you can put together your top five recommendations for change (as opposed to protest) I will publish them here to give them some attention.
Moreover, I will act as your unpaid attorney and make the case – as persuasively as I can – in favor of your suggested changes. Just to make it challenging, be sure to include slavery reparations in the top five. (I already have an argument in favor of that, and it will surprise you.)
If possible, suggest changes that can be tested in a specific school or city, for example. I can defend any suggestion that is testable on a limited scale.
I know from observing the reactions to Kaepernick’s protests that most citizens don’t recognize the severity of the situation he is pointing out. To many people, the problem seems like perception, not reality. But I would argue here that perception is reality for all practical purposes. That’s why people take meds for various mental conditions, such as depression and anxiety. The pills don’t change the outside world, but they do change how you perceive it, and how you interact with it. Science has guided us out of the time when we thought brains were magic. We no longer believe that with the proper “thinking” all people can cure their own depression and anxiety.
Likewise, it doesn’t matter that African-Americans might see a problem as bigger than others see it. For all practical purposes, that’s their reality. You wouldn’t want to live in a world in which you perceive that the police are likely to shoot you for no good reason. Why would anyone want that?
I’m unlikely to change anything in the real world by this exercise, except to show some respect to a guy who set himself on fire in the hope of creating positive changes for others. But listening to a teammate is a positive step in itself. That too is part of changing perceptions.
I’m persuasive, I’m listening, and I’m willing to improve on Kaepernick’s suggestions and promote them to the world right here. The rest of you can be spectators. But if you see anything worth pursuing – and you think you can help – remember that you’re on the team too.
What do you say, Colin? I’m open. Pass me the ball.
Many, many people read books like mine because of something called social proof.