By Faith Neece, Contributing Writer
The NFL “Take a Knee” protest against police brutality and violence against African Americans sparked a fire in America, both of support for the movement and anger against it. This fire has made its way to Asbury’s campus with senior Isaac Moore’s own decision to kneel and the mixed responses to his decision. Asbury saw many responses on social media, in The Collegian and in face-to-face conversations. The NFL protests, however, have led to a larger conversation, beyond this particular movement. Americans now, Asburians included, are raising questions about the very nature of protesting: is it appropriate? Is it effective? And is it part of the Christian ethic?
Author Ta-Nehisi Coates, journalist for The Atlantic and leading American intellectual, recently shared his thoughts on the nature of protests in an interview with Stephen Colbert. Asking Coates his opinion on the recent NFL protests, Colbert cited what many Americans feel— that this is not an “appropriate” place to protest. Coates responded, “It’s never appropriate.” He continued by saying that if a protest does not make you uncomfortable, it may not be a very effective protest. “It is the nature of protests to start in a radical place,” he said.
And this has been the case throughout history. In his article “Civil-Rights Protests Have Never Been Popular,” Coates discusses the false idea that many Americans have about the now well-respected civil rights movement of the 1960s. Martin Luther King Jr. is practically deified today, and the civil rights movement of that era is seen as brave, respectful and necessary. But we sometimes hold to a false idea that it was also popular during the time it took place. It wasn’t. This movement was very unpopular and was regarded in a similar fashion to the NFL protests and larger Black Lives Matter movement of today. It was seen as inflammatory and highly inappropriate.
Statistics reveal further similarities in attitudes towards these protests. The Washington Post preserved polling data from the 1960s and compared it to opinions on civil rights movements today. In 1961, 61 percent of respondents disapproved of the sit-ins and freedom riders movements, while 60 percent disapproved of the March on Washington. Currently, only 32 percent of Americans report positive feelings toward the Black Lives Matter movement. And this is exactly why protests are needed. Coates reiterates that protests are a challenge now, just as they were a challenge in the 1960. “If the majority of Americans approved, there would be no need for the protests in the first place,” Coates said.
Some protests might be more effective than others. Or sometimes it may take years or decades for activists to see results in their struggle. But protests have brought us many of the current freedoms we hold today. We cannot forget the radical nature of these protests and how they always been in controversy. Still, they remain necessary. Without them, policies and attitudes would not change.
Finally, I believe non-violent protests can be an important part of the Christian ethic. It is our calling as Christians to use our voices to advocate for the oppressed, and that is the purpose of many protests, including the Take a Knee Movement. Protests take their aim at addressing communal sins, and while the church addresses individual sins, such as lust or lying, it too often neglects communal sins, such as racism or sexism. Activists are addressing these issues in a way that the church does not.
When addressing protests, one should remember that is their nature to be radical and uncomfortable. One may disagree with a particular movement, but claiming that protesting itself is prideful is a dangerous position that may lead to further infringement of civil rights. Protesting is not prideful. It is, in fact, necessary.
Photo by Matthew Pertz