San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision not to stand during the national anthem in protest of racial inequality has been a divisive topic for Americans.
About 30 locals proved that it can also be a foundation for productive conversation during a “Dialogue on Racism” hosted by The Peace Center and held at the Newtown Friends Meetinghouse last night.
“Having been in the military, I’m personally offended,” Solebury resident Joe Marini said. “I do respect his point of view. He has a message that he wants to get out and it’s a good message. I just disagree with the way that he’s doing it.”
Marini said the flag and the anthem represent ideals people in the military have fought and even died for. Others said that Kaepernick is exercising those rights justifiably, and some considered whether African-Americans have equal rights to begin with.
The conversation became clearer with examples.
Sarah Burdick of Clinton, New Jersey compared Kaepernick’s actions to Beyonce performing “Formation” at the Super Bowl 50 halftime show. The performance included Black Power and Black Panther Party symbolism. Some critics praised its boldness for aligning with the Black Lives Matter movement, while others negatively perceived it to be anti-police.
“People were threatened by it. They said she hijacked the Super Bowl, that Colin Kaepernick is hijacking the NFL,” she said. “I don’t know, if he was white, how that reaction would be.”
Lauren Swann of Bensalem compared Kaepernick to Ryan Lochte, a white member of the American Olympic swimming team. During the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Lochte started a controversy when he falsely claimed he and three other swimmers were pulled over and robbed by armed robbers posing as police.
“We have an American swimming in another country who completely disgraced us by breaking laws and lying and they’re more upset by a football player on a field,” Swann said. “It’s insane.”
Kaepernick was just a starting point for the discussion. As participants broke down into groups of three, the dialogue led into deeper, more personal issues of racism.
“When people first meet me, they assume that I’m ignorant,” Dave Adams said. “I’m black, so I must be ignorant.”
The Feasterville resident, retired correctional officer and veteran of the U.S. Navy and Army Reserves reflected about a neighbor who moved out when he moved in, being followed around while shopping and an unarmed friend who was killed by police.
“That’s America right now. We’re a great country but we have a cancer that’s eating us,” Adams said. “If we don’t do something about it soon, we’re going to wind up in a race war.”
Newtown resident Robin Hoy related to racism without experiencing it directly.
“I feel like we, in some way, experience that as women,” she said. “I’ve never really known that many African-Americans, but I’ve always been really passionate about justice issues.”
Others connected like this throughout the evening, and that was the goal according to Barbara Simmons, executive director of the peace center — an open discussion leading to a better understanding of the issues.
She posed a question, one that wasn’t exactly answered and probably couldn’t be during a two-hour dialogue.
“Now that we understand each other,” Simmons said, “what’s the next step?”
The Peace Center will host another Dialogue on Racism on Oct. 24 at the St. Mark AME Zion Church, 136 Congress St. in Newtown, at 7 p.m. For information, visit thepeacecenter.org.