Jefferson said more than he meant. When he wrote those inspired words that rise boldly from our Declaration of Independence — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” — he spoke words that have resonated through the ages.
What he intended was a radical thought for his day. But what he meant was “all white men who owned property, including other human beings.” Not women, and not people of color. And not people from other places who were not white or wealthy. He was man of his time, and he never intended our current interpretation of those original words.
So here is the real greatness of our ongoing American experiment. We have not remained stuck in the limited vision of the 18th century. Courageous men and women have risked their lives and reputations over these many decades of America’s growth. Braving criticism over controversial issues, marching against injustice, praying for wisdom, placing themselves in harm’s way so that other’s might gain increased access and broadened freedom, and standing for the rights of others — these are vital American qualities that keep us fresh.
An essence of American history is this: we keep learning and growing and helping each other figure out how to be a better and more open society, to increase freedom, and to learn from our mistakes. For the first time in human history, we are attempting to craft a functioning democracy based upon constitutional laws evenly distributed, openly discussed and readily shared. Accomplishing this is not easy, and the necessary efforts often create discomfort.
This brings us to Colin Kaepernick. He is the San Francisco quarterback who continues to kneel while the National Anthem is played at the beginning of NFL games. He was to be in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 18. Widely criticized, booed and condemned as a hypocrite and unpatriotic, what he offers each Sunday is controversial — and very American. His kneeling calls attention to sad realities in so many of our communities. This is the epitome of patriotism. His choice to kneel is on behalf of others. He is calling upon us to make our country better.
Yes, it makes many of us uncomfortable during our National Anthem. But far from disrespecting our men and women in uniform, he is using what they, too, stand for. We are forced to recognize a clear area within our national system that still needs work. We, especially in the white community, are reminded that a large segment of our remarkable country still feels alienated, overlooked and unappreciated. We can and must do better.
For the rest of us, standing for another’s right to kneel is also patriotic. Yes, I wish Colin Kaepernick didn’t have to kneel, because that would mean that, once again in our great American experiment, we had figured out how to expand further Jefferson’s inspired words:
All. Created. Equal.
We haven’t yet. But let’s keep trying, and instead of criticizing the Colin Kaepernicks of our country, let us together stand for their great American right to kneel until we can get it right — together.