Dallas Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones (blue jacket) stands with his players before the national anthem before the Cowboys play the Arizona Cardinals

After a rather heated post on Facebook yesterday that garnered hundreds of comments—and ultimately resulted in the estrangement of two of my family members— I decided to tackle the “Kneel or Stand” topic that the NFL is currently grappling with in my own fashion.  “In my own fashion” means I did not write this article in an effort to substantiate a side or condemn or condone the action, but in an effort to zoom out and understand.   I wrote this because it is a perspective that I haven’t heard elsewhere, and because it is a perspective that will give you an opportunity to challenge your mind.

Although it will undoubtedly make some people uncomfortable, there is no slant.  There is no stance.  Just some psychology, observations, and some questions that are for you to answer, not me.

 

Addressing Topical Arguments / Primer

TRACK A

  1. “Black Lives Matter” as a slogan isn’t to say that all other lives don’t matter, or that black lives matter more, it’s a slogan to intimate that the disparities in treatment of whites vs blacks is palpable, and the movement asserts that right now we need to acknowledge this one, specifically.
  1. The position of the BLM movement is that the criminal system is stacked in such a way that black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for deadly oppression.
  1. Kneeling for the anthem is considered by the BLM movement as a peaceful way to protest the current criminal justice system and other systems with the intent of raising awareness until there is change or resolution to the aforementioned concerns.

TRACK B

  1. “Black Lives Matter” as a slogan is incendiary, and may be seen as a form of anti-white rhetoric.
  1. Suggesting that social, criminal, or justice systems were designed for the specific purpose of targeting black people for deadly oppression is not only disrespectful to the people who are part of those systems, but disrespectful to law enforcement.
  1. Kneeling for the National Anthem is unpatriotic, and disrespectful to everyone who has ever served this country. It is disrespectful to all of the traditions and values we hold dear.

 

Splitting the Difference

Each of these aforementioned points and variances in opinion will be addressed throughout the article.  But first, a thought experiment. Let’s pretend that a cop has just pulled his car up to your family BBQ, steps out, and asks you for your identification. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s say you have no arrest warrants and aren’t doing anything illegal. Do you:

 

A)  Give the identification without question or hesitation? 

B)  Ask the question “What for?” and don’t hand it over without an acceptable answer?

 

How you answer this question will greatly influence how you view the NFL “kneel or stand” question, because this answer not only boils down to a difference in value sets, its a difference in psychology.  It is the psychology that we should be all aware of, because this is where it the difference in response to the same stimulus, and subsequent polarization begins.

 

The Blind Side (pun intended)

For some, the core belief set is that the systems in place are functioning properly, and must be maintained. There is a belief in the ultimate purpose and “goodness” in order, hierarchy, and authority. Interestingly enough, these “Traditionalist” values are most often espoused by conservatives, and individuals who answered ‘A’ to the above question.

For others, it’s that the system isn’t functioning properly, and needs to be fixed. There is less trust or perceived “goodness” in the order, hierarchy, or authority. These values and core belief sets are most often espoused by “Reformist” liberals, and individuals who answered ‘B’ to the above question.

Neither is inherently wrong or right.  However, due to the difference in belief sets, these two will be at odds, and have very different perspectives.  Nevertheless, both of these core beliefs at the extreme can cause issues with cognitive bias when logically assessing situations, especially in a more global sense.

For instance, at one extreme, individuals may think the system is perfect and anyone who vocalizes their distaste is subect to accusations of being whiny, making up lies, or exaggerating facts to support their “agenda”.  They may wholly believe that system isn’t the problem— and conclude that an individual or group is the problem without judicious consideration of the information that was provided.  They may also illogically conclude that what a small part of a group says (like in the extreme case of believing that white people are the enemy) is the overall belief set espoused by a movement. From this filter, the entire BLM movement is seen as a threat, or anti-white in nature.

At the other extreme, individuals may compulsively use media coverage and “outrage porn” to support and substantiate the position that all systems— political, criminal, and social— were specifically designed solely for the purpose of oppressing them. They may believe that white people as a whole are the problem or enemy, and they may believe that those who disagree with them are simply brainwashed and “part of an agenda”.

Both sides have extremists which is to be expected. However, at the extremes poles, conclusions become more illogical, reflect a more exaggerated cognitive bias, and have the potential to become more dangerous to society as a whole.

 

 

The Mass Spectrum 

Everyone lies somewhere on this spectrum in terms of their trust or distrust of our political, social, and criminal systems as a whole. Where you place on the spectrum will impact your ability to see this situation in greater perspective and accept new information. From the middle, it is easier to see both sides of the issue, even at the most extreme levels.

However, various factors of environment and values will ultimately impact where one will fall on this scale.

 

General Observations about the Spectrum

If deeply entrenched beliefs support the idea that the aforementioned systems are perfect, or that the hierarchy and inherent authority of traditionalist systems are necessary and good, it’s far easier to affirm this cognitive bias through selective perception and retention, and remain closer to “Extreme Trust” on the spectrum if the individual is a white male. I’m not saying it’s inevitable, just easier.

If deeply entrenched beliefs support the idea that the aforementioned systems are deeply flawed, or that the hierarchy and inherent authority of traditionalist systems are altogether stacked against you, it’s far easier to affirm this cognitive bias through selective perception and retention, and remain closer to “Extreme Distrust” on the spectrum if the individual is a black male. Again, I’m not saying its inevitable, just easier.

If you are a reformist starting with deep distrust in the aforementioned systems, disparities in treatment may be easier for you to detect if you are a white male. This combination would foster a much wider range of perspective, and bring the individual closer to the middle of the spectrum.  Tolerance for more extreme viewpoints is more likely occur within this range, allowing the individual a greater ability to understand various facets impacting these issues.

If you are a traditionalist starting with deeply ingrained trust and respect for aforementioned systems and hold traditionalist values, disparities in treatment may be easier for you to detect as a black male. This combination would foster a much wider range of perspective, and bring the individual closer to the middle of the spectrum. Again, tolerance for more extreme viewpoints is more likely occur within this range, allowing the individual a greater ability to understand various facets impacting these issues.

In general, individual experiences within these systems differ greatly among white males and black males. Futher, personal experiences will likely weigh more on the “filter” or “selective perception” than the experiences of others.  If the experiences and “filters” are different, the perception of reality will be different, as well.  Thus, neither “Extreme Trust” or “Extreme Distrust” on both sides of the spectrum given the above stated parameters should be difficult to understand— especially given the current social climate. 

That said, that doesn’t make either of them logical positions. Only understandable. This position can only occur if the individual is unable to consider the possibility that they may be in error in their judgment, or that their perception may be altered by their “filter” and instead influenced by their own expectations. This is what is called selective perception, a cognitive bias related to the way expectations affect perceptions. It’s also very common, even among those who do their best to remain unbiased.

That said, this bias does not inherently render the individuals incapable of empathy as some may conclude, though one could argue that it suggests that they have difficulty with conceptualization.

 

 

Huddle Up for “Meh”

The best place to be to understand this situation from all sides with the least amount of cognitive bias, as you can imagine, is to be dead in the center of that spectrum. It is called “Meh” not because it means the individual doesn’t care, but because it reflects a place of more understanding, less outrage, and tolerance for disagreement.

This last part is of particular significance and importance. More on that later.

Although it’s easier said than done, “Meh” is a magical place worth striving for.  Within the boundaries of Normal “Meh” range, all of the compromise, and goal-oriented solutions are devised.  In fact, it is from within this range that the Cowboys owner Jerry Jones kneels with his team, and then stands locked in arms for the National Anthem.

In a deeper understanding of both ends of the spectrum, he states that they “Won’t be divided.” This is where examples of patriotism and love for our country and fellow Americans happens, reaching across the “spectrum” divide in a show of respect for the people, respect for the country, and respect for the game.

While this magical “Meh” is great for the purpose of compromise and unity, it is also a philosophical place that also allows us to consider other facets of the issues plaguing our country today.

 

More “Facets” to Consider

The founder of BLM states, “Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise… and [about] our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.”  While slavery has ended, that does not inherently mean hat the pervasive mentality that brought about slavery and segregation in the first place—the psychological need to oppress another race to feel better about themselves— diseappeared with abolishment. Futher, it is unlikely that those sentiments have not influenced criminal policies or law enforcement.

That said, I’d like you to recall that in the “General Observations”, it did not account for differences in socioeconomic status. However, these differences can have a profound affect on the range of perspective, as well as primary belief sets of trust and distrust of the systems.  Without accounting for socioeconomic status as a variable, one may not even consider that more nuance may be involved in these issues than just race, alone.

For this part, I invite you to answer the following questions. Generally speaking, which two quadrants (shown left) have the highest rate of serving hard time in our prison system? Which two quadrants will serve the most time for committing the same crime? And, which two quadrants experience the most police brutality?

Further, is the division between race, or socioeconomic status?

 

The reason why I ask these questions

These questions are not meant to undermine the importance of BLM and their fight for racial equality. In fact, even among the answers to the above question, a black person wouldn’t have a better chance of avoiding prison than the poorest white person unless their household wealth exceeded a specific amount (around $70,000). Therefore, the system is still racially tilted, and that absolutely needs to be addressed.

Nevertheless, socioeconomic status should be considered as a major factor if the answers suggest that there is, indeed, a socioeconomic divide when answering those questions.  And if this is true, would it be unfair to borrow verbiage from BLM and suggest that “Socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals may be systematically and intentionally targeted for demise and are suffering in the face of deadly oppression” as well?

Further, is this worth greater consideration in the whole scheme of these issues, including those we see raised by the BLM movement?  Does this affect the idea that the disparities and oppression are solely to blame on institutionalized racism?

 

Under the Pileup

My favorite reason for listening to extremists on both sides of the spectrum is simple: they seem to always have the most obscure information to compulsively prove their extremist conclusions.  This is ultimately why I am inclined to tolerate them, because for better or worse, they are the bearers of some of the most incredible pieces of knowledge and information.

For example, some of those extremists were helpful in my discovery of the stories of Brandon Stanley, Daniel Shaver, Andrew Thomas, and Dylan Noble. These are names I may not have heard about, yet all were killed by police officers under circumstances that would have undoubtedly elicited indignant protest nationwide… had they been black.

Nevertheless, the media coverage that did occur was very carefully crafted, making sure the befallen individual was painted in a very specific, and familiar light.  Without fail, each of them had situationally impertinent information about their criminal history added to the news stories. In the absence of a solid criminal history to establish the character of the victim, they were reported to be “allegedly” or “suspected” “to be under the influence of alcohol” though it was never proven. If disproven, it was never published otherwise.

Let me repeat this for emphasis: the media establishes the character of the victim, not the police officer who pulled the trigger.  These portrayals of victims both black and white should raise some eyebrows in curiosity.

Though I have my own suspicions, I leave this for you to reflect upon when and if you wish to so that my own bias is not present in your processing of this information.

 

Back to the Main Discussion

From Extreme Traditionalist to within “Meh” Range, it is easier to recognize how parts of the system may be flawed, look for historical context to explain the etiology of its flaws, as well as see how individuals or groups— or other factors altogether—may contribute to its issues. You may not be so quick to judge kneeling NFL players and their supporters. You’ll know you’re within range when you say things to the tune of “I understand why they’re kneeling, and that’s OK. I’ll still stand out of love for my country.”

From Extreme Reformist to within “Meh” Range, you’ll likely see some interesting patterns emerge. You may hear how it’s not just black people experiencing these issues, or even that white people as a whole are impervious to the flaws of the system as previously predicted. You may conclude that poor white people can become victims of police brutality and murder as well. (Although, a level of privilege still exists, in comparison.)  You’ll know you’re within normal “Meh” range when the reasons why Dylan Noble’s family waving “White Lives Matter” flags begging for justice and media coverage start to make sense.

 

Finishing Thoughts —  Takeaway Points

If you ask me, you can’t see everything that’s wrong, or right, with America until you’re open to hearing it all—even if it’s the extremist illogical, and compositionally fallacious trash laced with tidbits of gold nuggets.

Further, I want to express that people come to their extremist, illogical, and compositionally fallacious conclusions honestly. It doesn’t inherently mean they are racist or lack empathy as much as it absolutely means that they are suffering from their own cognitive bias and inability to allow information to pass their “filter”.

Nevertheless, to understand the issues of oppression and disparity in America and find solutions, one would have to strive for the “Meh” range and become more receptive to information that may fly in the face of previously held value sets and subsequent expectations.

That said, BLM has an important job to do. We as a nation have an important job to do. We have to find a way to accept that the experiences and deeply entrenched values of individuals would lead our NFL players to take a knee, while we also have to accept that experiences and deeply entrenched values of individuals would lead others to find it an act of disrespect to something they hold dear.  And maybe, most of all, we should take cues from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones who found a viable solution to honor and respect those who wanted to kneel, as well as respect those who wanted to stand for the National Anthem out of a sense of pride, loyalty, and love.

I personally cannot think of a more Patriotic way to have handled the NFL situation. No one got exactly what they wanted, but everyone got exactly what was necessary to feel respected.  Nothing brings about unity like mutual understanding and respect.

 

Now we go into Overtime

At “Absolute Meh”, you might piece things together and wonder if the black and white race argument (pun intended) is obfuscating something bigger.

You might wonder why figures like Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, Booker T. Washington, and a pacifist like MLK are paid the most lip-service during Black History Month, yet legendary activists like Angela Davis and Fred Hampton are widely unknown or altogether missing in educational materials for young black people.

You might wonder why the media always paints a criminal caricature of victims of police brutality, regardless of race. Then you might wonder why there is such a racial disparity in media coverage. Then you might wonder if this is actually a wedge-issue or wedge-strategy that is being propagated by people with an actual agenda who are pouring gasoline on an blazing fire— but that’s getting into the weeds a bit for the purposes of this post.

And last but not least, how can we give due consideration to the issue of socioeconomic oppression, while still tackling the racial disparities present today?  Could sharing the focus offset rising racial tension in America?  Or would a redirection of focus counteract the momentum of the BLM movement? I don’t know. That’s why that sentence ended with a question mark.

 

All I know is that finding a solution to respect and unity will be a team effort.

Karen Pendergrass

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”- Stephen R. Covey

 

 

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