Colin Kaepernick Wants to Keep Us Angry and Stuck
Colin Kaepernick pressured Nike to pull its line of Betsy Ross-flag shoes this week. That flag, he said, symbolizes an era when America supported slavery. When I heard about this, my first reaction was, “Oh, good grief!” This morning it occurred to me that that’s exactly what we need: good grief. Better grief than we’ve had so far, anyway.
Our nation has a lot to grieve. We suffer the pain of past slavery, Jim Crow laws, and a crushing list of civil rights violations. There’s debate, naturally, over how much of that is still real and ongoing. There’s even debate over whether any of that should be open to debate.
What we can’t debate though, is that there’s horrific pain in our past, the result of real evil. We’re still deeply divided as a result. And unless we can find our way to healing and unity, our future looks grim.
But what would that look like?
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross famously outlined the phases of “good grief” in her five-stage grief model: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I don’t say this applies perfectly in our culture — this isn’t about terminal disease or death, for one thing, and I also don’t know where “denial” fits in. But some of it sure fits. There’s certainly anger and bargaining going on.
Kübler-Ross’s co-author David Kessler has extended her model to include a sixth stage: finding meaning. It’s a potentially beautiful outcome — though hardly guaranteed in every case. But I’ve seen it come out that way in friends who’ve lost spouses, or in family members who’ve suffered serious disability. They’ve found a way to integrate that loss and pain into their souls or psyches. They don’t declare their suffering good by any means, but they become stronger, more whole persons. They’re a delight to be with. They add life. Their presence builds me up.
This is straight Christian teaching, of course. God’s intentions for us have a lot more to do with building our souls than with managing our comfort. We can either cooperate with Him or fight His work. That is, we can allow suffering to accomplish that for us, or we can turn bitter and shrink instead. The difference depends largely on whether we forgive others who’ve hurt us, or even forgive God for allowing it to happen.
Victor Frankl put it eloquently following his extreme sufferings in a Nazi concentration camp. To find meaning, we must find the humanity present in the ones who’ve done us harm. And we must forgive. This, too, is straight Christian teaching. It’s also a truth Frankl was able to see clearly from his standpoint as a Jew, for it is wisdom discoverable to all who are open to it.
It seems to me there was a point when America was on the verge of finding meaning out of our racially ravaged past. Under Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s leadership, the civil rights movement was at least aiming in that direction. White Americans resisted — not all, but certainly too many. Even so, there were signs the country was at least starting to catch on.
The Left Wants Us Stuck
Colin Kaepernick, in contrast, wants to remain stuck in the anger and bargaining stages. He wants us all stuck there. He’s even adding another stage that has nothing to do with Kübler-Ross’s model: Striking back. Getting even. Shaming America for its history.
I can appreciate the humanness of that motivation. But it’s not only divisive, it’s also regressive. It can never bring healing or wholeness, or even full mature adulthood. On the surface it may feel like an effective expression of power, but power isn’t the same as strength — character strength, I mean; strength of spirit, soul and psyche.
Kaepernick is taking us in the wrong direction, and it’s going to hurt us all, African Americans included.
White Americans have our own responsibilities in the healing. I’ve spoken briefly on that already, and I’ll have more to add soon. In the meantime, though, the last thing we should be doing is encouraging a culture of stuckness — which is exactly what too many leaders on the left have been doing, along with Kaepernick. There’s power to be gained from stoking the divisions, but it’s power that hurts rather than helping.
We need leadership, both white and black, that envisions healing, not anger; unity, not division; ultimately strength, not mere power. Colin Kaepernick is not that kind of leader. May God raise up better for us.
Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream, and the author of A Christian Mind: Thoughts on Life and Truth in Jesus Christ and Critical Conversations: A Christian Parent’s Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens, and the lead editor of True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism.