There’s an important civic lesson to be gleaned from Colin Kaepernick. And almost no one is discussing it. So let’s discuss it here.
Mr. Kaepernick refused to stand for the National Anthem and salute the American Flag at a football game. His reason? It’s his way of protesting against racism and the American history of slavery.
Rather than challenging his judgement, calling him names, or praising him for courage he hasn’t demonstrated, why not focus on the beautiful idea that Mr. Kaepernick has helped to illuminate, at least in the current moment?
WRONGNESS OF RACISM INSEPARABLE FROM RIGHTNESS OF EQUALITY
1. Racism and slavery are wrong because the principle of natural human equality is true. As Abraham Lincoln argued, the true principle of natural human equality is the foundation of all true morals. Any moral condemnation of slavery or racism is really, then, a celebration of the principle of natural human equality.
2. The principle of natural human equality is the first self-evident truth enshrined in the Declaration of Independence.
3. By protesting against racism and slavery, Mr. Kaepernick seems to be advocating for the principles the Declaration of Independence, especially the idea of natural human equality.
Is Mr. Kaepernick positioning himself to be a champion of the Declaration of Independence wittingly or unwittingly? Does he really understand what is implied by his denunciations of racism?
It doesn’t really matter.
OPPORTUNITY FOR REAL CIVIC EDUCATION
What matters is that we use every occasion possible to highlight, teach, and inspire Americans about the idea of natural human equality. That idea is not only the foundation of all morals, as Lincoln rightly pointed out, it’s also the basis for individual freedom, constitutional self-government through the consent of the governed, the equal protection of the person and private property of all citizens, and the rule of law.
Americans losing their way politically—Americans forgetting why freedom is good while they idly watch their government grow and grow and grow and control more of their lives and property, corresponds exactly with Americans forgetting the idea of natural human equality and all that it means morally, politically, culturally.
The good news is that the principle of natural human equality really is true. And it really is the basis of all morals. Each and every human being possesses not only a physical body, but also a free, rational mind that is capable of governing the physical body in which it is housed through the free choices the mind makes. In that respect—the freedom of each individual to choose how he or she wants to live—all human beings truly are equal.
And from that simple moral truth of natural human equality, we can see with the mind’s eye why it must be wrong for one person to control another without the other’s consent. This is the purest moral case against the enslavement of one human being by another, whether race is involved or not.
Race-based slavery, which seems to be on Mr. Kaepernick’s mind these days, is but one form of slavery. It is wrong for the same reason all slavery is wrong: because all forms of slavery violate the principle of natural human equality.
ANTI-RACIST ACTIVISTS ARE ALLIES IN THE CAUSE FOR FREEDOM
Consider also: If the principle of natural human equality is not true—if all human beings are not equal in some morally significant way—then why would it be wrong to think some “races” of people are superior or inferior to others? Why would it be wrong to treat some groups of human beings better or worse, as superior or inferior to others?
See the rub? One cannot reject the Declaration’s principle of human equality and condemn slavery or racism as wrong, at least not with any logical consistency. If equality is false, then racism is right. If equality is true, then racism must be wrong. The wrongness of racism and the rightness of natural human equality are two sides of the same moral coin.
That’s why: Contained within every person who laments the wrongness of racism is an advocate for the self-evident truth of natural human equality. Whether a person is aware of it or not. If not, we need merely remind them, and others, of how racism and equality are intrinsically connected.
Mr. Kaepernick has provided us a high profile, publicly visible occasion to do just that. He may not have intended to become #Kaepernick4Declaration, but we are free to label him that way as we go about teaching the ideas of equality and freedom. So rather than scolding him for being outrageously unpatriotic, or praising him for extraordinary courage—both of which are likely exaggerations—let’s just thank Mr. Kaepernick and make the most of the opportunity in front of us.