There’s no doubt about it – Americans have become more divided over the past year than we have been in quite some time. The signs are everywhere. Being offended over what happens during the national anthem is now a basis for not watching football on TV. There’s a fault line running straight through the center of the country, and if we don’t start dealing with it, it won’t be long before the earthquake hits.
We need to reach some middle ground quickly on the most divisive issues – take the NFL players’ anthem demonstrations, for example. But to pay attention to the debates on cable news or social media, you may have noticed: There is no “middle.”
The possibility that both sides of the debate may be onto something has been laid to waste in the rush to hurry up and pick a side, then start swinging. Aggressive partisanship can serve its purpose – and make no mistake, this debate is now as much about politics as it is about patriotism or race relations – but the truth so often rests near the 50-yard line, as boring as it may seem.
Such is the case here. Both sides have the unqualified right to feel the way they do. But the talking heads don’t see it this way.
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Just as the armchair quarterback shouts at his TV screen about missed receivers when he has never taken a snap himself, some political commentators have seen fit to criticize the players’ decisions to kneel when they have never felt the cold sting of discrimination. Others don’t truly understand how our veterans could be offended by the demonstrations, when they themselves have never kissed their children goodbye and headed off to battle, then come back home with mental and physical scars that will never heal.
These demonstrations have sparked accusations that are downright ugly. Terms such as race-baiting do not flow smoothly off the tongue. But if it was unity and not conflict that drove ratings, the analysts would say this:
This debate is not about who’s right and who’s wrong. And it’s not about kneeling – it’s about what happens when you get back up.
The players’ decisions to kneel during the anthem marked the beginning of the conversation and not the end. Peaceful demonstrations – even imperfect ones – serve a purpose, but frank discussions must follow. We must reinforce the sanctity of our flag and our anthem. We must separate politics from race relations, and then determine exactly where we stand on the latter as a country under our new administration. Where we see problems, we must endeavor to fix them.
We get things done in America by talking openly and honestly about our beliefs and our experiences. But free speech only works when others take the time to really listen.
Blake Shuart is a Wichita attorney.