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Colin Kaepernick & Ellen Page & the continuum of social change

Colin Kaepernick & Ellen Page

Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers of the National Football League, and Ellen Page, the actress best known for her role in the movie Juno:   2 very different people that I’ve been thinking about both of them lately.

If you are not a sports fan, Kaepernick made a bold statement recently by not standing up during the national anthem before his team’s games, to protest unjust treatment of racial minorities.  He’s been getting a lot of heat, both from other athletes and many football fans.  Kaepernick later explained his views to reporters.

In 2014, Ellen Page came out as gay, announcing it at a conference benefiting the LGBT community.  While most of the Hollywood community was very supportive, not everyone in the public was.

Kaepernick is getting a lot of heat because sports in America has traditionally been very patriotic.  It’s considered nostalgic entertainment, a way for us to remember the “good ol’ days,” and for different generations to connect and discuss their childhood heroes.  Sports are not supposed to make us think about the world; instead, they are to be a distraction from worldly headaches.  It is not an arena where current events are debated.

Page’s world differs from Kaepernick’s:  the acting realm is (outwardly) more accepting of different cultures and lifestyles.  Movies (and TV shows and plays) often challenge current viewpoints, sometimes directly, sometimes through irony and satire.  While they are often entertaining, they can also be springboards to provocative thoughts and ideas.

While I do applaud Kaepernick for being bold in his stance, I hope that this is just a start to his work towards social justice.  While he has just started talking about this issue publicly, Page is farther along the continuum of social change by working with the LGBT community over the last few years.

Earlier this week, I finally got around to watching Gaycation, Page’s show about her discovery of the LGBT in different countries.   In the first episode, she went to Japan, a nation where being gay is not acceptable.  While there have been recent victories there (both legally and socially), it’s still very much an uphill battle for the LGBT community.  I’ll avoid spoilers, but the last scene of the episode is a real tearjerker (at least, if you are supportive of the lifestyle; if you aren’t, you probably want to avoid this show.)

I was listening to Bill Engvall’s podcast recently, and he lamented the fact that people don’t use their front porches anymore.  When he was a kid, he would walk around his neighborhood and see different neighbors hanging out on their front porches.  These were the days when neighbors knew each other and looked out for one another.  But today, people don’t use their front porches, don’t know their neighbors, and don’t seem to care about the outside world.  Engvall postulated that this may be one reason we are having so many societal issues, because of the lack of community.  I agree with him: we don’t know our neighbors and, therefore, don’t care about them.

Societal changes don’t just happen overnight.  Injustice in all manners is still rampant in so many different ways.  While celebrities like Page and Kaepernick can highlight the issues, it’s up to us regular people to continue the discussions with our friends and family. We need to be having the hard discussions with people in our lives, about the problems we face.  And if we don’t have any problems, there are people in our spheres of influence that do.  We should be sharing our stories and asking our friends for theirs.

I understand these are difficult questions to ask.  But all of us have a story to share, life experiences that have shaped our worldviews.  And usually the most painful episodes are the ones that we both shield from others but keep in the back of our consciousness when we speak and act.  Each one of us has been either victims or witness (or perhaps even perpetrators) or abuse or ridicule or addition or violence or racism or any other form of injustice.

Yesterday, I was even surprised that a friend of mine (an old co-worker from a couple of jobs back) commented on one of my Facebook posts, where I shared a link about Jackie Robinson refusing to stand for the national anthem (just like Kaepernick has done).   During our back and forth exchange, he shared about his families’ experience with racism in this country.  I was shocked that he volunteered this information (with no prompts from myself or any of the other people talking on this thread), but felt a deeper connection to him for sharing these painful memories.  I thanked him for telling his story, which gave me a greater insight to his position on this sensitive issue.

While the Internet seems like a bastion of hate-mongering and ineffectual virtual shouting matches for these emotionally charged issues, it is possible to connect to one other through this medium.  It will take kindness and patience and asking the right questions.

If we are to make actual, viable, tangible changes to our world, we need to stop fixating at the grandiose gestures that Kaepernick and others are making.  We need to get to know our neighbors (as Engvall remembers from his youth) and learn about their lives and their experiences (just like Page is doing).  It should not just be the public figures doing this, but all of us.

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