A few years ago I wrote a post about my knees and what they had taught me, but I never thought I’d be even more challenged by other people’s knees! The Colin Kaepernick blackballing and subsequent Trump escalation of animosity toward those who bend a knee during the national anthem has made me think a lot about the Quaker testimony of “witness.” Why is it that peaceful — dare I say respectful — symbolic protest stirs such anger in those who do not share its purpose? Is signifying one’s beliefs publicly a huge risk in today’s hyper-partisan environment even if one is not a famous quarterback? What is my responsibility not just as a citizen, but as a person wanting to be “woke,” “authentic,” or just plain ole “good?”
I support those in the sports world who have linked arms or taken a knee to at minimum show their solidarity with their fellow athletes and at maximum their commitment to Kaepermick’s goal of drawing attention to the inequality inherent in the treatment of people of color by the public safety and justice systems. But no one sees or cares whether I take a knee, and in any event the anthem isn’t played before my weight lifting session or my yoga class. Nonetheless, I have to admit that I have sometimes eschewed other accessible forms of public expression out of a desire to remain private, or perhaps, out of just just plain fear. Fear that people will judge me, unfriend me or worse. I need to get over it.
Until retirement I worked over several decades as a U.S. History teacher in two different private schools. I thought it imperative that I keep my own views out of the class discussion, acting as the neutral (or so I hoped) facilitator of honest and deep conversation about the meaning of American history and its complicated legacies. My Quaker training helped me to be a good listener, to honor the views of others and to teach those skills to my students. Because of my devotion to and insistence upon reasoned, respectful discourse I had and still have strong relationships with former students of all political persuasions, religious backgrounds, ethnicities and gender identities.
Its different now. I can put a bumper sticker on my car, write a blog post, tweet, share something on Facebook, or wear a T-shirt without compromising my job or my professionalism. But too often I shy away. Why? I live in a trending to purple but not quite there yet suburb. The Saturday farmers’ market has tables for red and blue candidates on opposite corners of the parking lot. Traffic is nuts and I often wonder whether having a particular bumper sticker might mean I got cut off or given the finger even more frequently. My gym’s management seems partial to the Fox News view of the world, and that Kira Grace yoga tank I love that proclaims that yoga is: human rights; economic, racial, food, gender and environmental justice; politics; solidarity might get me a lot of uncomfortable stares. I’m trying to sell my house so I can downsize to an apartment in New York City full time and I’ve even worried that my social media presence could deter potential buyers.
And then I look at what Colin Kaepernick has given up, willingly, with grace and no small risk to not just his economic security but his person. And I think it is time to walk the walk not just talk the talk. I’ve always been willing to demonstrate on my own time, to donate the little extra money I have to worthy causes, to write the occasional post or retweet those more out there than I am. But, my friends, I think its time to wear that tank, write that blog post, put that bumper sticker on my car. I’ll let you know if I get rear ended.