Ronda Walker: Colin Kaepernick’s Dixie Chicks moment

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It was early 2003 and the ink was not yet dry on my graduate degree from the University of Hawaii. Packing had commenced as I prepared to move from my apartment in Honolulu back home to Montgomery, Alabama. I was selling most of my belongings to avoid paying to have them shipped. As I prepared my computer for sale, I pushed the eject button on the CD drive and out came my Dixie Chicks CD. It was my favorite. For many months prior, I spent a great amount of time in my on-campus office in Sakamaki Hall doing research, writing, and studying all while listening to the Dixie Chicks. The unique vocal sounds of lead singer Natalie Maines, coupled with the mix of bluegrass and pop coming from the instruments played by the Erwin sisters produced a unique, energizing, and exciting sound I thoroughly enjoyed.

Of course I wasn’t their only fan; by 1997 the group had their first big record deal and they quickly evolved into a worldwide sensation. The awards began pouring in around 1998 and sold-out concerts were commonplace through the turn of the new millennium.

The Dixie Chicks were at their peak in March 2003 when they began their world tour in London. At the same time America was still reeling from the devastating attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Americans were still bloodied, bruised and traumatized by images of planes crashing and bodies falling. It was in the midst of these emotionally turbulent times that Dixie Chicks lead singer, Natalie Maines, took the stage in London.

A U.S. invasion of Iraq was imminent as a retaliatory measure and an attempt to slow the spread of Islamic extremism. Maines disagreed with President George W. Bush’s decision to invade. Maines was in London to sing songs, but instead she decided to make a political commentary to her largely non-American audience, “We don’t want this war, this violence, and we are ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.” The Chicks, of course, were Texas girls themselves. While the concert crowd applauded Maines’ comments, the reaction in the U.S. was near apocalyptic.

Maines’ remarks came as a slap in the face to many of her fellow Americans in general and country music fans in particular. The fact that Maines did not anticipate the impact her words would have on the majority of her country fan base shows a remarkable disconnect with reality. Her controversial remarks proved to be the beginning of the end for the Dixie Chicks. Album sales plummeted, songs that had topped the charts the week prior were no longer played on the radio, and concert tickets could not be given away.

The Dixie Chicks went from being the top-selling all-female band in the U.S. to virtual oblivion overnight.

Although most Americans defended Maines’ right to make her comments, many disagreed passionately with her decision to do so. It was not only what she said that had many upset, it was the way she chose to say it.

In an effort to save her career, Maines offered a mea culpa, but her disingenuous apology fell on deaf ears. Maines would later retract that apology and double down on her initial remarks by stating, “I don’t understand the necessity for patriotism. Why do you have to be a patriot? About what? I don’t see why people care about patriotism?”

Natalie Maines genuinely seemed confused at the anger and backlash over her comments. She did not understand why so many Americans were mad that she got on stage and ridiculed the president. She was simply voicing an opinion, her opinion, which she is entitled to. So how dare people berate her for her opinion!

After all, our country was founded by a group of political dissidents. We were forged in the fire of stubborn discourse and disagreement. The freedoms we cherish allow our citizens to stand up and wave an angry fist in the face of controversial political decisions. That is the very essence of America.

There is no question the Chicks had every right to express their opinion; likewise, the rest of the country has every right to reject that opinion. That is the American way, not that we have to agree with or tolerate every protest or opinion. Tell me your opinion and I’ll tell you mine. Disagree with me and I’ll disagree with you. Let’s wrestle over ideas and solutions for our collective problems, but please don’t assume everyone who disagrees with your opinion is intolerant, narrow minded, or ignorant.

Enter NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his recent protestations of the great experiment known as America. Kaepernick refused to stand during the National Anthem, and later explained his actions by stating, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Kaepernick’s protest, although not explicitly stated, appears related to the recent officer-involved shootings of black men. Kaepernick clearly has strong feelings about certain issues challenging the US right now and he has every right to express his concerns. I would go further and say his passion obligates him to join the struggle for a solution. He has every right to protest by refusing to stand during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner.” Every right. Conversely, others have every right to be angry, horrified, and resentful of his choice of protest.

If you want to get people’s attention, burn the flag or disrespect the anthem — it works every time.

You cannot spit in someone’s face and expect them to shut up and like it. I can even agree with what someone says, but vehemently disagree with the way they chose to say it.

Kaepernick knew exactly what he was doing; it was his strategy to draw attention to a national issue. But disrespecting an honored national symbol that represents a country people love and many have died for makes people angry. So angry, in fact, they are inhibited from hearing what you say because they are too distracted by how you chose to say it. Kaepernick got what he wanted, the white-hot spotlight turned on him and he had the opportunity to express his opinion. That is America. And you know what else is America? Fans booing Kaepernick at every game the remainder of the season. Fans clamoring for the 49ers owner to bag the guy. Fans burning Kaepernick in effigy. That is America.

So why the backlash for the backlash? I’ve seen numerous comments on social media that read basically like this: How dare you say bad things about Colin Kaepernick! He’s justified in his anger. He was brave to protest; leave him alone! He doesn’t have to stand for the anthem if he doesn’t want to, that is his right! You’re just a stupid racist for bashing him.” And, well, the comments devolve from there. But the irony is so rich, yet lost on so many.

Yes, Colin Kaepernick has every right to sit during the National Anthem in protest, and the person next to him has every right to passionately disagree with his actions. As long as we don’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater, we each have the right to voice our objections to U.S. policy and decision-making. Maines and Kaepernick are free to say or do what they want to do within the bounds of the law, likewise we are free to stop listening to their music and watching them play football.

Either both sides are intolerant or both sides are exercising their right to free speech, you cannot have it both ways.

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Ronda M. Walker is a wife, mother of four, and a Montgomery County Commissioner.

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