What’s so hard to understand about freedom of expression?

At first I thought the Colin Kaepernick controversy was the overcovered story of the week; the man refused to stand for the national anthem, which is his right. Get over it already, and let’s get on to the real news.

Then, of course, the story became the story.

And the reason I now think this is a significant historical moment is that is shows that national discourse on racial issues has progressed somewhat. Kaepernick’s ongoing act of dissent has not been slammed with a one-sided barrage of condemnation from the media and the NFL powers that be, as it likely would have been 25 or 35 years ago.

We are nowhere near “postracial.” But volume of voices on social media defending Kaepernick and, more important, exposing the “plantation mentality” of his detractors, has been heartening.

What still gets me is that some percentage of Americans still seem to view free speech not as an inalienable right but as an abstract concept that some of us–especially those who dare express challenging opinions–aren’t really supposed to use.

And their statements defy common sense. What does it matter how much money Kaepernick makes? How does that diminish his right to dissent? And why are people who exercise their free-speech rights told they should go live in Russia? The twisted logic of that sentiment is mind-blowing.

I am reminded of an argument that took place at a flag-burning many years ago between a youthful left-wing dissident and an older, conservative veteran. The young man stated he was exercising his constitutional right to free expression.

“Rights?” the veteran countered. “We fought for your rights. You haven’t got any rights.”

In hindsight, I accept that the older gentleman was angry and was expressing his own opinion (at the time, I snickered at the remark’s comical stupidity). Still, in his own awkward way, he was saying exactly what some people still say today when someone like Kaepernick dares challenge the nation to have a conversation about its shortcomings.

Copyright 2016 by Stephen Leon

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