Monday, I tapped through countless Instagram stories displaying Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quotes in aesthetic fonts. On Facebook, I liked the plethora of tributes to the civil rights hero posted and shared by my friends. These remembrances of such an integral figure of American history were usually tasteful; many of them included further calls to action, for modern members of society to follow King’s example and continue the work he died doing.
I appreciated these posts on Monday. And don’t get me wrong — I still do. I’m thankful that my social media communities seem to be in solidarity with their support for and remembrance of King and his remarkably peaceful protests. After all, his philosophy of instigating peaceful protests were what set King apart in the middle of a society riddled with hatred and violence. The nonviolent dissent grew to be a powerful catalyst for change.
And yet, something began to nag at me slightly in the days to follow Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It was minimal, and only did I recently put my finger on why exactly something about my social media feeds seemed strange to me.
On Aug. 26, 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem before playing a preseason game. Kaepernick kneeled to show his dissension with racial inequality and police brutality in the United States. He continued to do so in the games to follow, and national conversation quickly grew into a wildfire with inflammatory accusations from both sides of the argument. Some athletes joined him; others were vocal in their disapproval. No response was more blaring, however, than the response I saw on my own social media timelines.
I had just entered my first semester of college when Kaepernick’s protests sparked nationwide debates. I remember scrolling past numerous heated, hateful arguments on social media. Some of the friends on my feeds applauded Kaepernick for various reasons: his message, his manner of protesting, his boldness. Within the same five minutes of scrolling, I also saw posts from many who berated him for disrespect. It was a time of extreme polarization.
What has bothered me since witnessing the solidarity of social media praise for King’s radically peaceful protests is that it is very different than the angry, often offensive debates surrounding Kaepernick. I may have friended some people on Facebook and unfollowed a few people on Twitter over the last three years, but it is still largely the same group of people — just acting in very different ways.
Don’t get me wrong — I am not equating King’s and Kaepernick’s struggles nor battles nor even their messages. From my viewpoint, however, their modes of delivery were astoundingly similar as they found ways to peacefully protest something in which they felt deeply convicted. I’m sure King’s actions were considered disrespectful, offensive and uncalled for by many people in the 1960s. Now, however, we all praise his nonviolent methods — rightfully so. My only question is why Kaepernick’s peaceful methods of dissenting were so torn apart.
I will not say that you cannot simultaneously admire King and ignore Kaepernick. I am incapable of saying what anyone can or cannot believe; I don’t have the authority nor the wisdom. However, I do call into question the ability to respect nonviolent means of protesting in the past while spitting on peaceful protests of the present. You may not agree with the message or the point of such demonstrations. However, I hope we can all be thankful for an act of nonviolence in a world surrounded by the opposite.