Before last week, everyone and their mother had weighed in on NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to protest police brutality, by kneeling during the national anthem during the 2016 season. Many welcomed Kaepernick’s peaceful protest as a bold and necessary tactic to raise awareness about the plight of minorities. On the other hand, many took Kaepernick’s protest as an insult to police and the very military members that had fought and/or died for Kaepernick’s right to protest. Even Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is staunchly progressive, called Kaepernick’s protest “dumb and disrespectful.”
The controversy seemed to have died down as the 2017 NFL season began. Kaepernick, who was not signed to a new team in the off-season, said he would stand for the anthem during the 2017, as his goal to raise awareness had been accomplished. However, President Trump ignited the controversy once again when he opined last Friday that NFL owners should fire players that disrespect the flag, using the phrase “son of a b***h,” to refer to such players. As you can imagine from such divisive, disrespectful and over-the-top rhetoric, people were outraged. Dozens of high-profile NFL players spoke out against President Trump and hundreds of players decided to kneel during the anthem before last week’s game or refused to even come out of the locker room while the anthem was played.
On social media, the debate now rages about whether Kaepernick’s protest was right to begin with. Those in favor of Kaepernick’s protest accuse opponents of being bigots, while those against accuse Kaepernick and his supporters of being unpatriotic. On either side, people are making divisive and disrespectful comments about the other. While reading posts and comments in my own newsfeed, the dialogue made me realize that there are parallels between the struggle that Blacks face for equality and the struggle that mutants face for peace in the X-Men movie series.
For those that are unfamiliar, in the X-Men films, certain people, mutants, have genetically evolved and developed special abilities like superhuman strength, the ability to fly or the ability to become invisible. Naturally, as humans become aware of mutants and their abilities, they fear that mutants could take over the world. The question then becomes, what should be done with the mutants? Can they coexist with humans? Should they be killed? Should they be forced into concentration camps? Should their abilities be weaponized and used for war?
In the film, Professor Xavier is a powerful mutant who believes that mutants can coexist with humans and favors a diplomatic solution. His friend and archenemisis, Magneto, is an equally powerful mutant that believes that humans will always fear mutants and seeks to destroy humans preemptively. This conflict serves as the backdrop of each movie in the series.
Without getting into who is right and who is wrong when it comes to Kaepernick, the question is: which one of these characters describes your attitude toward racial reconciliation in America today?
Obviously, the parallel between Kaepernick’s protest and the X-men isn’t perfect. You could argue that Professor Xavier and Magneto, both mutants, are on the same side, struggling about how to deal with people hostile to their very existence, whereas the controversy over kneeling during the anthem seems to be a conflict between two opposing sides. However, that’s not the parallel that one should be focused on. Professor Xavier is universally recognized as the hero in these films because he has an unyielding belief in the overall good of humanity, despite the hatred that is sometimes shown. Magneto, on the other hand, is universally recognized as the villain in these films because he has an equally unyielding belief that humans are mainly motivated by fear and that peace is not possible. So who are you?
On this specific issue of Kaepernick’s protest, no matter where you stand, are you one who assumes that the people on the other side are motivated by hate or love? Is it possible that people can love this country, yet be disappointed that it has failed to live up to its highest ideals with respect to how Blacks are treated by police? On the other hand, is it possible that people who sincerely love Blacks and believe in equality, admire the singing of the national anthem as sacred ritual? Can minorities ever co-exist with Whites in America?
It seems to me that if we believe that it is better to assume the best about people and to give them the benefit of the doubt, our dialogue about race should look much different. If we feel good when Professor Xavier wins in the movies, why do we go home and trash our opponents online? Why do we give into our anger and frustration by making, sharing and promoting content that is just as harmful as President Trump’s comments?
To say that these discussions are hard is an understatement. The hurtful experiences and emotions that people bring to the table are deeply connected to how they view things. However, at the end of the day, we have to remain hopeful and behave in a way that is consistent with that hope or the United States will never be united.