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Don’t argue about Kaepernick’s protest, just solve the problem

The Niners QB is protesting obvious and unavoidable problems and love is the real solution

What a time to be alive. Not only in the world of sports, but in today’s society. We are seeing the resurgence of a protesting spirit. A spirit that repeats the words of Muhammad Ali, raises its fists in honor also of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, believes in the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. and strives for the fearlessness of Claudette Colvin and Ruby Bridges.

We have that spirit translated on our streets, in all types of neighborhoods and now in athletic arenas. I’ve been waiting for this. I wanted this: for athletes to speak out against injustice, stand up for what is right and take part in the struggle for change in our America. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been a part of that discussion and for a very fitting reason. It seems like I’ve heard every reaction, criticism and praise for his decision and that of others to kneel during the national anthem before a sports event:

“He’s not black enough.”

“I understand what he’s trying to do, but that doesn’t even relate to what his message is.”

“He needs to stand, people fought for his freedom to even protest.”

“If he hates the state of this country so much, then he can live somewhere else.”

“I stand with Colin Kaepernick.”

“I get his message, but there’s another way he can approach it.”

“I don’t believe he’s sincere in his motive.”

“People would love to take his spot to live in America.”

“He just wants attention.”

“He makes millions of dollars, what does he have to complain about?”

“You know he’s not standing for himself, right?”

“He has a right to protest, and a right to stand for what he believes in.”

“He’s an idiot.”

“Black athletes aren’t the only ones who should be making a stand.”

“You can’t get any more American than that.”

“It’s a distraction to his team.”

“If someone on my team sat for the national anthem, I would bench them.”

“He’s disrespecting our flag, our nation and our troops.”

“Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

“Kneeling is not going to solve anything.”

“I’m not black, so I’m in no position to comment on it.”

“You can protest, but not on 9/11.”

You may have heard someone say one or more of these statements. You may have even said one or more of these statements yourself. Although motives in debating this topic may be to gain perspective, a subconscious or conscious part of us feels satisfaction when someone agrees with our opinion or we get to take someone to school with our extensive knowledge, valid points and solid argument. However, I’m not taking this precious moment to tell you if I do or do not agree with Kaepernick’s method of protest and why.

Quite frankly, that should not be your concern. Our concern shouldn’t be if Kaepernick chose the correct method of peaceful protest. Or whether he is sincere in his intentions. Or whether it was the right approach. Or if he’s doing it to draw attention to himself. Or if he’s an idiot. You can love his choice or you can hate it.

At the end of the day, black men, black women, black girls and black boys are dying. They are being put in body bags every single day due to bias and ignorance. In 2015, nearly two unarmed black people were killed at the hands of police every week. The rate at which unarmed black people are killed by police is five times higher than the rate of white people killed by police. And yes, black-on-black crime is a tremendous issue that needs to be addressed and solved. However, by including that in the racial narrative in this country, you are comparing crime prompted by prejudice to crime prompted by societal and economic deprivation and concentrated isolation. That’s not just apples and oranges; that’s apples and Mars.

Some black Americans are destitute, trapped in poverty with limited access to wealth. Blacks have the highest poverty rate in the United States. More than one in four black families in poverty have neighboring families who also live in extreme poverty, compared with the one in 13 white families.

We are also being caged. People of color account for 60 percent of all Americans imprisoned. One in three black men born in 2001 should expect to go to prison in his lifetime. Out of my younger brother and two of his black male friends, one of them has a higher expectation of being behind bars at some point in his life instead of graduating from college, finding a job or becoming a CEO of a company one day.

The “war on drugs” has diluted the black and Latino population. Black people comprise 12 percent of the total population of drug users, but are 38 percent of those arrested for drug offenses. They disproportionately take up more than half of state prisons for a drug offense at 59 percent.

Fourteen million white Americans reported using an illicit drug, compared with 2.6 million black Americans. Still, black Americans are sent to prison for a drug offense at 10 times the rate of white Americans.

We are being deprived of opportunity. Discrimination dehydrates our hope and suppresses our expectation to succeed. The unemployment rate dropped in 2016, yet it continues to be high for black Americans. The rate for unemployment for black Americans is 8.8 percent, while that percentage is 4.3 for white Americans. To put this into perspective, the unemployment rate during the recession for white Americans was 9 percent. Black Americans live in that recession-like reality every single day.

Even taking higher education into account, black Americans still experience a similar or higher rate of unemployment. The comparison goes like this: White Americans who have a high-school diploma have an unemployment rate of 4.6 percent and black Americans who attained at least a college education have an unemployment rate of 4.1 percent. The difference in unemployment between a high-school educated white American and a college-educated black American is 0.5 percent.

So … no. I do not care what you think about Kaepernick and whether he is protesting the right way. Because when you allow your reaction to a protest to get in the way of the issue at hand, you suppress your appetite for creating change. Now, how do we even start seeing this change?

Well, I could tell you how you can begin to invest your money into black-owned banks to churn wealth back into impoverished black neighborhoods. I could suggest that you directly invest your money in those same communities as well as their schools and students. I could even say invest more of your time in inner-city youth. Teach them that drugs aren’t the answer and to stay in school. I could tell you, as a black American, to get your education, beat the odds and get those jobs as judges in the courthouse, as government officials and in the police forces. I could encourage you to continue to attend rallies and protests.

Although all of those things can make improvements and shift those statistics, there is only one answer that boomerangs back to what we are searching for to defeat the detrimental war of racism.

Love.

It has been and always will be the answer. But what does that look like?

For years, our discourse has been exceptionally divisive. We describe each other as different races of people, as if we are different species. We are one human race. That must be universally understood.

Despite your ethnicity — black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern, Native American, African — this week, serve, engage in peaceful conversation, listen and start developing a relationship with someone who doesn’t look, think, act or even like you. When we begin to actively diversify ourselves, begin to show love and not just speak about it, we allow ourselves to comprehend and appreciate one another beyond the tone of our skin. Once you complete this task, consider this weekly assignment a lifelong commitment.

Continue to speak out and stand for justice. That is a requirement. But along with that, the commitment to loving people despite their hate can demolish the evil that is harbored in the hearts of people who disproportionately populate our prisons, deprive black people of opportunity, kill unarmed black Americans, deny us jobs and keep us disenfranchised. We’ve been overcomplicating moral issues for hundreds of years by trying to solve them with political answers. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Kayla Johnson is an associate editor for the ESPN social brand. She is an avid Kobe fan and may consider retirement if given the chance to interview him one day.